Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

HMRC commits to call centre investment

10th Aug 2012
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer has announced the recruitment of up to 1,000 additional contact centre staff to meet the department's target to answer 90% of all calls.

Homer plans to invest £9m this year and up to £25m in 2013-14 to reach the call centre industry standard two years earlier than HMRC originally promised the Treasury Select Committee.

The decision to invest in extra HMRC staff was taken after consultation with the Joint Initiative on HMRC Service Delivery (JIHSD), which involves professional bodies and tax charities.

HMRC said call centre performance had improved in the last couple of years, answering 48% of all call attempts in 2010/11, and 74% in 2011/12. Homer added that the quality of the advice people received when they got through was good, but admitted they hadn’t been answering enough calls.

“Our target of achieving contact centre industry standards of 90% of calls answered first time is the right target. But after hearing the views of customers, stakeholder bodies and our own staff we have speeded up our timetable for achieving it.”

She added: “I am reprioritising our resources to make this additional investment possible, without impacting our other core customer services.

“We remain committed to offering more online services and other ways of serving customers, which will ultimately reduce their need to call us.”

The institutes welcomed the announcement, with CIOT president Patrick Stevens, commenting: “We trust that HMRC will ensure that the welcome expenditure on call centres does not detract unnecessarily from services elsewhere.”

Paul Aplin, from the ICAEW, also noted how just last month the Tax Faculty wrote HMRC about call centres - one of the main gripes of ICAEW members. “We’ve been working with HRMC through the Clasper initiative, and in particular in the last couple of months we’ve been focusing on call centres,” he said.

“The £34m announcement is a huge response to what we were asking for. It’s particularly impressive that it’s come from Lin Homer so quickly after she has taken up the post, and shows she’s been listening. I think that’s hugely important.”

Union action

The new recruitment drive could be seen as a partial victory for the unions who have been campaigning against HMRC staff cuts.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) told AccountingWEB they didn’t have a huge amount of detail yet, but were pleased that HMRC recognised the need to invest more in these areas.  HMRC had confirmed that the 1,000 additional people will be full-time HMRC staff and not private contractors, the trigger for strikes in January and June this year.

“This looks like it’s a positive step forward because at the very least it recognises that there’s a need for investment,” he said. “The fact they’re referring to that kind of terminology and referring to the massive problems they’ve had in their telephony services over the last few years shows there’s a recognition that they need to do something about it.

“We’d also like to see this kind of recognition extended across the rest of HMRC as they’re still planning to cut 10,000 jobs from the department by 2015.”

Jaded accountants, however, might  question whether more contact centre staff coming in to replace more experienced local inspectors and tax experts will make much difference to HMRC service quality. The new operatives might be able to answer phones quicker, but will they have the relevant tax knowledge to act and sort out queries and problems?

Paul Aplin commented: “The quality of the answer is as important as the speed of the answer, and my understanding is that they’re putting resource in training as well so the people on the help lines will have the experience and knowledge that they need.”

HMRC staff morale

Concern over service quality continues to affect HMRC staff morale, which according to a report from CIPD employee relations vice president a Nita Clarke, is already at a low level.

Clarke was brought it to provide an ‘independent challenge’ to both HMRC's top executives and the trade unions on engagement and trust issues.

She found that many employees felt the organisation as a whole neither valued, listened to, nor respected them, and just 18% of employees would recommend HMRC as a great place to work.

The survey showed that 20% of HMRC staff reported that they wanted to leave either as soon as possible or in the next 12 months.

Even though the response rate for the survey was just 52% the respondents said they felt fundamentally disempowered. Only 34% felt involved in decisions that affected their work, while just 45% felt they had a choice in deciding how to do their work - a figure that is 26 points below the average for the civil service.

Around 18% of staff believed they had the opportunity to contribute their views before decisions are made and just 20% believed the organisation inspired them to do the best in their job.

Replies (21)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By JCresswellTax
10th Aug 2012 14:10

Who cares.....

How many calls they answer, when the quality of the response is [***].

Thanks (15)
By Tipp21
10th Aug 2012 14:34

Have wiated 45mins to get through to HMRC, then you are spoken to as if you are a criminial because they never infromed you of tax underpayed. Like myself it took 7 years for hmrc to write to me regarding underpayments back to 2003.

Thanks (0)
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
10th Aug 2012 14:36

My heart sank...

My heart sank when I read this - like many other accountants, I'm sure.

I've just put the phone down from speaking to a very nice HMRC lady who rang to tell me that in response to an email from a colleague, written in response to my fourth phone call chasing the answer to a letter dated 25th APRIL, that my letter and paperwork were now in Edinburgh on someone's desk.

The letter was originally sent to Liverpool and then resent to another dept and then also faxed......I could go on - but you get the drift.

Thanks (3)
Time for change
By Time for change
10th Aug 2012 14:43

How do you follow that?

JCreswell Tax -absolutely first class.

Does this announcement mean that 10% of all calls, won't be; (a) answered at all or (b) will still be answered, but after the caller has hung on for upwards of 20 minutes?

Either way, this all sounds like political claptrap to me. No apology for the wretched service which the taxpayer has put up with in the past though, is there?

Thanks (1)
By Exector
10th Aug 2012 14:53

How has it taken this long to get some action? Why was it not new money? What other things will HMRC now not be doing in order to do this? How long will it take the new staff being recruited to have more than the first clue of how to d/w the calls that will now supposedly be getting through.


Their "business" model is crap in the first place and you know it is. An absolute shower.

Thanks (0)
By DavidGilligan
10th Aug 2012 15:03

I pity the poor staff

Just spoken to a nice lady who has been on collections side for 30 years.  Client being chased and harrassed and threatened with bailiffs re PAYE arrears (long story).

They actually recorded my last letter written 20 July as received 25 July - but not actioned until 8 Aug - in meantime of course threatening letter issued.  Saw client today, he says he is at the end of his tether with the worry over all this - he is old and ill.

Anyway, she told me that her and some colleagues were today hauled off their collection duties to do telephone duty.

She also confirmed that all the good tax inspector types have gone - think we surmised that.

Will send an official complaint - I think they tend to take a liitle bit of notice of them, but I guess not a lot.

What a shambles



Thanks (0)
By mydoghasfleas
13th Aug 2012 12:19

I thought it was saying holdtimes will decrease by 2 years

The press release reads

"HMRC has announced its intention to recruit up to 1,000 additional contact centre staff this year, at a cost of £34 million, with a view to hitting its target of giving first-time answers to 90% of all telephone queries by the end of March 2013, two years earlier than planned" 

Does this mean that people calling today who would have been receiving an answer in 2015 will now receive it by 2012.  How adequate will six months training be?

Also why are they paying £34,000 per recruit.

The press release is so badly worded perhaps they should get Jane Brothwood in as Deputy Director Stakeholder Engagement, Communications and Customer Insight to explain what it means

Thanks (0)
By Tipp21
10th Aug 2012 16:55

saying what i said up above, on Monday gone I did get through to Liverpool and the nicest person ever spoke to me for a half hour trying to explain the conclusion from a complains handler from my first letter. He was brilliant, such a shame there is not more people like him within HMRC.

Thanks (0)
By muppet1903
11th Aug 2012 09:23

@tipp21 - experience shows that there are some very helpful staff at the end of the line, but HMRC should be focussing just as much on the quality of the staff rather than the quantity. How can they expect to be able to bring 10,000 people up to "scratch" when many of the current staff need training, and for me I mean attitude rather than competence. I phoned the PAYE department last week and the woman who took my call spoke to me like a 6 year old. I was raging when I got off the phone, and they can talk all they want about low morale etc but I' know 2 people who work in call centres for banks and they would have been sacked for speaking to a "customer" like I was spoken to. what's the saying -fur hat and no ............!

Thanks (0)
By geek_fromupnorth
11th Aug 2012 12:18

Why so negative?

Even though I do agree with the responses above regarding quality etc surely there's some positivity from this? Better to have increased capacity than stagnation - even if it's more fodder, it's something from HMRC to work on further surely???

Thanks (1)
By justsotax
13th Aug 2012 10:12

more of the same.....?

no thank you.....if you always do what you've always done...then you will always get what you always got.......


If they had a target of answering a taxpayers query (rather than merely answering the call)...then maybe the solution (and result) maybe a little different.

Thanks (1)
By kenfrost
13th Aug 2012 11:56

Window Dressing

It's window dressing, pure and simple:

Thanks (0)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
13th Aug 2012 12:12

Comments from UK200 group members

A couple of interesting quotes came through in a statement from UK200 including:


Jonathan Russell, partner, ReesRussell: “I hope that the recruitment goes well for them but wonder whether they have the resources to train the new staff to such a level that they can really help callers if they do bring new staff on so quickly.”

David Ingall, consultant, JWPCreers: “What is needed is common sense at the other end of the phone and is that going to be achieved? Having recently received a Notice of Coding for myself that was complete nonsense, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the phone call to get it corrected took only six minutes.

“However, there should never have been the need for such a call in the first place. Extra staff is positive but they are only replacing staff that have been shed in the past that should have been retained. This shows a distinct lack of planning.”

Thanks (0)
By Sparrow
13th Aug 2012 12:45

Untrained and incompetent

What is the point of employing more staff who simply cannot help you with any queries as they are all incompetent, armed  with just a flow chart and a list of questions to go by! Absolutely unhelpful and a waste of money. Bring back regional offices with real people.

Thanks (0)
By AndyC555
13th Aug 2012 12:58

I wonder.....

I wonder what they define as 'answered'.  As mentioned elsewhere, being told that my call is important as I hang on for 15 minutes doesn't qualify in  my book as an 'answered call'.


I made the mistake of calling their help-line (twice) usuing my mobile.  Hanging on for a combined 35 minutes at a cost of £12 and I didn't even get through.

I wonder how much HMRC make out of their premium rate line? Could someone raise a Freedom of Information query on this?


"By the way, by making this long winded announcement on the phone before giving a bewildering choice of options none of which match exactly what you are after and all of which result in you speaking to the same person anyway (if you speak to anyone at all that is) and when you do get through she won't be able to help you anyway"



Thanks (1)
By mydoghasfleas
13th Aug 2012 12:59

The genius at the top

I wonder if this is the sort of quick fix we should learn to expect from the current breed of local and national government officials. 

Look at the CV of Lin Homer, after rising to Director of Corporate Services in Hertfordshire, (Corporate Services seems to mean support services ranging from buying pencil sharpeners to HR), she has had a number of top dog jobs, each of which she seems to have held for a shorter period than the preceding one. 

She is responible for "............ for providing leadership and direction to the department. She runs all aspects of HMRC’s business, ensuring delivery of the strategic objectives and driving continuous improvement."  Even the job desciption sounds like it was created as part of "2012" series.

She recruits 1,000 now they start to come on in early 2013 by the time Parliament and Joe Public realise it's made no difference in 2014, she will be onto another job or heading up ½ dozen well meaning funded bodies in the the third, fourth or fifth sectors, whatever the hell they are.

This in no cure to the problem it is simply treatment of the symptons.  It will happen as long as we have managers who do not address the cause of problems.  Instead they create a language where the number of words used increases in direct proportion to their inability to provide an answer.  This happens so much more in the public sector because strategic objectives are redefined when you look like missing them.  If a disaster hits do not deal with the disaster rename the department e.g. 2001 foot and mouth hits, MAFF completely incapable of producing strategy is renamed DEFRA.  Complete meltdown management in Immigration and Nationality Directorate, having been created out of 2004 collapse in Home Office, led to recreation as Border and Immigration Agency in 2007 and another change tom UK Border Agency in 2008.

Must sign off, my carer is here with my Temazepam and he must not know I have been doing this.  He's very jealous becuase only I can hear the little voices whispering in my head.



Thanks (1)
By [email protected]
13th Aug 2012 13:02

If I only answered 90% of my calls :-

I would be out of business :

PI insurers would be far from happy :

The HMRC would probably complain to my Institute :

Britain would be far from Great

And you could have got a gold medal for jumping merely 90% of the hurdles or swimming 90% of a length on the pool.



Thanks (0)
By Nick Graves
13th Aug 2012 13:08

Acronym is incorrect

Joint Initiative on HMRC Annoyance Delivery (JIHAD) more like!

Thanks (0)
By Democratus
14th Aug 2012 14:23

Be careful in case this actually works

Should HMRC actually answer 90% of the calls there are still some outstanding statistics.

What is "answer"? Joining a holding queue isn't answering in my book.What about the other 10%? Surely all calls should at least be answeredWhat about the quality of answers? There is anecdotal evidence of call centre staff (admittedly not specifically HMRC) who hang up prematurely and that counts as a cleared call and they can reset the clock.Will the focus on “We remain committed to offering more online services and other ways of serving customers, which will ultimately reduce their need to call us.” actually mean that we will have to listen to even more recorded messages saying "we have a website you know"?Laudable though this initiative is the remaing poor attention given to written communication should also be tackled. How many calls are actually trying to trace a response to a written communication?

I am holding my breath.........................not

Thanks (1)
By Peter Tucker
17th Aug 2012 16:29

Additional 1,000 Call Centre Staff
Interesting to note that Ms Homers announcement is not, one assumes, not to be confused with the announcement of an "extra 1,000 Call Centre Staff" which HMRC announced in 2011??
This new announcement could support the view that the first 1,000 extra staff did nothing to improved the service levels. I am reminded of Richard Branson's recent comment:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcomes"

Thanks (0)
By Nick Graves
17th Aug 2012 17:42

Albert Einstein

...was the original attribution.

This is the only time the keywords HMRC & Albert Einstein have ever appeared in the same thread. Probably...


Thanks (0)