HMRC customer charter tone ‘a bit threatening’

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Richard Hattersley
Community correspondent
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Taxpayers surveyed about the revised HMRC customer charter criticised its tone, while one respondent felt some language used was “a bit threatening”, according to HMRC’s customer views report.

The taxpayers and employers gave a mixed reaction to HMRC’s revised charter, highlighting its inconsistent language and tone.

Respondents noted that some of the language was more informal than the current charter. For example, the obligation “Be tough on people who bend or break the rules” led one employer to assume the threatening language was HMRC’s desired reaction.

Several respondents said they preferred the previous charter’s language, complaining that the revised version was too ambiguous. For example, in response to the “Keep accurate records and protect your information obligation”, some employers wanted to know how long they needed to keep accurate records, and what exactly they needed to record.

One focus group member noted how the current charter left little chance for confusion, with the message presented in more precise terms and the obligations broken down into bullet points.

‘Overall feedback positive’

Two digital formats of the new charter were compared: one version showed the statement headings and text below, while the other used hyperlinks.

The taxpayers preferred hyperlinks, as they made it easier to extract the relevant information. But those who had a “regular relationship with HMRC” preferred scanning the information below the obligation. An employer said: “The chances of me clicking on each one are next to none.”

Respondents did praise some aspects of the new charter. They felt the explanation narratives reflected the headings, and others noted the mostly clear and formal language was what they would expect in a government document. One employer said: “The language used is good, especially if you’re not used to dealing with HMRC.”

Many of the respondents understood the purpose of the charter without previously being aware of its existence. The revised charter was shorter than the previous and was easier to digest. One respondent complained about the older version: “Too much writing… some people can’t be bothered to look at it, just think ‘Oh no I can’t do it’.”

Commenting on the document’s changes in January, Rebecca Cave questioned why there wasn’t a balancing obligation on HMRC to respond to letters in good time, answer the phone within five rings and refund tax without delay.

The customers and employers also wanted information on how to contact HMRC via phone or email, but failed to notice the “How to make a complaint” links buried on the bottom left hand side of the page.

After HMRC quietly tweaked its charter last year, it commissioned Ipso MORI to conduct five focus groups with taxpayers and 10 in-depth interviews with small and medium sized businesses between June and July 2015 to test their reactions to the seven revised obligations and explanations. 


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