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Man working in a call center | AccountingWEB | HMRC given £51m to sort out failing helplines
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HMRC given £51m to sort out failing helplines

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HMRC has received a £51m cash injection to improve helpline services and get staff answering more calls. 

13th May 2024
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The Treasury announced today new ring-fenced funding to help HMRC’s phonelines meet service standard targets. 

The extra funding comes after HMRC performed a U-turn on plans to permanently restrict, and in some cases close, taxpayer self assessment, VAT and PAYE support lines. The tax authority halted its plans only 24 hours after strong backlash from stakeholders, taxpayers and professional bodies. 

When HMRC chief executive Jim Harra was grilled by the Treasury Select Committee over the plans to close helplines, he said the tax authority didn’t have the funding to deploy more helpline resources

The problem has only worsened as more people have been pulled into paying tax as a result of inflation and fiscal drag, while HMRC’s resources have been squeezed. 

HMRC’s Angela MacDonald told the Treasury Select Committee in June last year that the decision to adopt a seasonal telephony model was a result of the “challenging level of efficiencies required by our spending review 2021 settlement”, where only limited funding was assigned to the tax authority to spend on enhancing their digital services. 

The Treasury noted in the press release that HMRC has received a £900m cash increase over Parliament, from £4.3bn in 2019/20 to £5.2bn in 2024/25.

Still pursuing efficiency-improving strategy

In a statement, HMRC’s Harra said the Revenue remains “committed to expanding our online services, and encouraging customers to go online where they can” but that this must “happen at a pace the public is comfortable with”.

Therefore, he added, “This additional funding will enable us to improve our helpline service for those who need to speak to us – including the vulnerable and digitally excluded – making sure they get the support they require.”

HMRC estimates that two-thirds of self assessment calls can be dealt with online. While the extra funding will help prop up helpline services, HMRC is still set on pursuing its “efficiency-improving long-term strategy” of becoming digital by default and directing taxpayers to use resources on gov.uk and the HMRC app. 

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Nigel Huddleston said: “People sometimes think that managing their tax is daunting – but it doesn’t have to be, which is why I’m fully committed to providing HMRC with the resources it needs to meet the needs of all its customers.

“Many tasks can quickly and easily be completed online or via the HMRC app, but today’s funding means that everyone can rest assured there will be someone at the end of the phone, ready to speak.”

Long wait times remain a constant frustration

The reality of long wait times on HMRC helplines has become an ongoing frustration for taxpayers and agents, and has become a frequent complaint on the Any Answers forum.

In a recent example posted this week, AccountingWEB member Lorraine99 said: "I'm absolutely appalled at the lack of resources at HMRC and the amount of time/money their incompetency and delays are now costing me and my clients. "

The Public Accounts Committee blasted poor service levels back in February as HMRC’s performance continued to deteriorate. 

Meanwhile, the professional bodies have routinely called on the Chancellor before Budgets to invest in HMRC service levels. Last March, a group of professional bodies signed an open letter calling for more investment to sort out the “unacceptably low level” of customer service.

Reactions

Richard Wild, the head of tax technical at the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said: “We are pleased the government has recognised that HMRC need additional resources to improve its customer service, particularly its phone lines which have been underperforming for many years. HMRC’s service levels continue to be the single greatest concern expressed by our members, and our surveys tell us that it is making it harder and more expensive to do business, and damaging trust in the tax system.

"While £51m sounds like a lot of money, it’s just a small fraction of HMRC’s customer service budget, and so needs to be spent wisely. We hope that this additional funding can help bridge the gap that exists between the desire to do more digitally, and the availability and reliability of systems which would make that possible.”

Helen Thornley, a technical officer for the Association of Taxation Technicians, had a similar reaction. “We welcome extra funding for HMRC, which has seen its customer service levels severely lacking in recent months. Taxpayers and agents are struggling to do business with the current phone services. While we support HMRC’s ambitions to do more digitally, it is vital that phone support is retained until any new services are up and running smoothly.  

“From the perspective of agents, the current digital provision is not up to scratch. Agents would love to do more online for their clients and we look forward to working with HMRC to identify gaps in their services and help that transition.”

Caroline Miskin, ICAEW senior technical manager, digital taxation, called the extra funding a “good start” but like the other representatives from the professional bodies, she warned that it may not be enough to plug the gap. “Given the need to find and train up staff there will be a lag before any improvements are seen, so any boost to HMRC customer service from this funding is unlikely to be seen until the autumn and service levels may drop in the meantime."

She added: “The problem continues to be that online services are not comprehensive and don’t always work well. HMRC needs to step up delivery of digital services while maintaining traditional services during the transition.” 

Will this extra funding be enough to improve the long-standing helpline issues? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Replies (79)

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By Andy Hull
13th May 2024 14:25

Outsource it to Samaritans?

Thanks (16)
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By 0098087
13th May 2024 14:26

But we will still plough ahead with the insane MTD

Thanks (23)
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By FactChecker
13th May 2024 14:27

"Will this extra funding be enough to improve the long-standing helpline issues?"
... seems rather unlikely - given that the resource problem is not primarily one of volume but of (lack of) competence/quality within those resources.

The questions should be:
1. What will the ring-fenced money actually be spent on?
2. By when will any measurable improvements be reported?
3. What are those measurable improvements planned to be (the metrics)?
4. Have they realised that 'hoping the online resources will make up the difference' is not an *alternative* to sorting out the phone lines (or even introducing an email enquiry service)?

Thanks (23)
Morph
By kevinringer
13th May 2024 14:28

HMRC already have the money to fix this, it's just that HMRC have chosen to waste the money on MTD instead.

HMRC also need to fix webchat; HMRC tells us to use that but I've tried several times today and it says no one is available. And HMRC need to fix their document (paper and online) processing backlog too.

Thanks (45)
Replying to kevinringer:
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By wood2207
14th May 2024 13:19

kevinringer wrote:

HMRC also need to fix webchat; HMRC tells us to use that but I've tried several times today and it says no one is available.

I had the "no agent available" issue a few weeks ago. For some random reason I decided to try another web brower on my computer and immediately I got an agent. No idea why it worked but worth a try!

Thanks (0)
Replying to wood2207:
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By johnjenkins
14th May 2024 13:37

No Doubt HMRC will ask for another £51m to fix that.

Thanks (1)
Replying to wood2207:
Morph
By kevinringer
15th May 2024 11:31

I know the re-try trick sometimes works, sometimes straight away, sometimes an hour later. But sometimes it doesn't work again all day.

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By Paul Crowley
13th May 2024 14:29

I would not trust HMRC to use the money for the declared intention. It will just contribute more to the black hole of MTD ITSA.

Thanks (11)
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By Michael Gill
13th May 2024 14:30

Who is in charge of monitoring the ring fence ?

Thanks (8)
Replying to Michael Gill:
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By Tom+Cross
13th May 2024 16:38

I'm of the opinion it should be electrified!

Thanks (1)
By Husbandofstinky
13th May 2024 14:31

Fortunately I was sitting at my desk at the time.

Will wait and see what happens........

Not holding any breath whatsoever tbh

Thanks (4)
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By FactChecker
13th May 2024 14:37

The crying shame is that they patently haven't learned a thing from the fiascos ...

"HMRC estimates that two-thirds of self assessment calls can be dealt with online. While the extra funding will help prop up helpline services, HMRC is still set on pursuing its “efficiency-improving long-term strategy” of becoming digital by default and directing taxpayers to use resources on gov.uk and the HMRC app."

'prop up helpline services' sums it up ... a little bit of sticky-backed plastic, some glitter sprinkle and hopefully no-one will mind that the beast is unchanged (and still useless most of the time).

By all means keep "directing taxpayers to use resources on gov.uk and the HMRC app" ... but don't wind down the phone lines (too late they cried) UNTIL you can see that people are using the online facilities effectively and happily - and so demand for the phone lines reduces.

Given that the majority of taxpayers aren't aged malcontents like me, and do almost everything via their phone, the fact that they try to phone HMRC can only demonstrate 1 of 2 things:
1. They can't find the info they want (quite probably the relevant app and/or guidance); OR
2. They can find it but it either doesn't work (aka 'broken') or is incomprehensible to them.
Build a better solution and the people will come - but simply telling them that they *must* use the current crap is bound for failure.

Thanks (22)
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By petestar1969
13th May 2024 14:38

We ain't customers of HMRC.......

Thanks (12)
Replying to petestar1969:
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By Simon_GNR
13th May 2024 15:07

Quite. HMRC has one customer, HM Treasury, for whom it provides the services of administering the tax system and collecting the taxes due.

Thanks (3)
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By Open all hours
13th May 2024 14:42

This feels like yet another reward for failure. There are more than ample resources allocated already, it’s just that they tend to be flushed round the MTD u bend.

Thanks (8)
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By sammerchant
13th May 2024 14:46

Large G & Ts all round!

Ta very much!!

Thanks (3)
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By sammerchant
13th May 2024 14:46

Large G & Ts all round!

Ta very much!!

Thanks (2)
Replying to sammerchant:
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 14:51

I take it you're having a 'Double' there sammerchant!?

Thanks (5)
Replying to Rob Swan:
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By sammerchant
13th May 2024 14:55

Waste of money! It would have been better spent on bonuses for the frontline staff. Harra is overpaid!

Thanks (4)
Replying to Rob Swan:
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By johnjenkins
13th May 2024 16:22

Quadruple.

Thanks (0)
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
13th May 2024 14:47

Just kicks the can down the road until after the election.

Thanks (4)
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By Finacta
13th May 2024 14:51

I seriously don't understand why there is not an online ticketing system at HMRC a la Zendesk or similar. It is just bonkers that this never gets mentioned and isn't even on the agenda.

There's a forum to ask queries where HMRC agents respond and a web form to submit IT issues, which is clunky but you can get a ticket number and a response even if it's poor. Why not centralise everything on to a single unified online ticket management system, something like Xero support have, and do away with people answering phones. Surely this would be the single most efficient change they could implement and not even that difficult to build.

Thanks (6)
Replying to Finacta:
Morph
By kevinringer
13th May 2024 14:57

No need for a ticketing system because in HMRC's world MTD will fix everything and no one will ever need to contact HMRC. And they all lived happily ever after.

Thanks (8)
Replying to kevinringer:
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By Vallery Lee
13th May 2024 15:42

......and are there fairies living at the bottom of the garden?

Thanks (2)
Replying to Vallery Lee:
Morph
By kevinringer
13th May 2024 16:03

Of course, one is called Jim, another is called Angela. They live in the land of make believe.

Thanks (3)
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 14:54

When it comes to Gov't spending I thought HMRC (Exchequer) were the 'givers'. Seems they're more happy to help themselves than other, more 'needy' departments :/

Thanks (0)
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By 2TunTed
13th May 2024 14:55

This is a victory for common sense. I just hope its enough. Also good to see that vitriol is not in short supply. The Treasury set the HMRC agenda and the Treasury allocate the money. It is the Treasury that want the cost savings in tax administration and collection that have been promised by the IT providers and the 'Business advisers', brought in to catalyse a quantum leap in efficiency and effectiveness. If you want to have a go at someone, pick on someone at the Treasury. HMRC are not perfect but the treasury are a more legitimate target

Thanks (1)
Replying to 2TunTed:
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 16:18

"a quantum leap in efficiency and effectivenes"?????? Hmmmm......
Best not tell them, eh?

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Replying to 2TunTed:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
14th May 2024 13:02

The Treasury have a lot to answer for, but that doesn't stop HMRC being a legitimate target. HMRC has responsibility for implementation, and those within it should be pushing back at the Treasury if their targets are unrealistic.

Thanks (0)
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By OrmeGoat
13th May 2024 14:55

It's not the helplines which need fixing, it's HMRC.

Thanks (8)
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By Beef curtains
13th May 2024 14:55

HMRC does not understand the difference, the very big difference, between "efficiency" and effectiveness. So we are lumbered with insanity such as MTD, without any consideration of the wacky structure of the tax system.

Thanks (4)
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By Balancing
13th May 2024 14:56

HMRC charged my son over £4k when he was actually due a refund of £2k instead. They didnt answer the phone, nor replied to emails. So i contacted our MP and he sorted it out. If you have a problem contact your MP and more resources may get put to this stupidity.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Balancing:
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By DMBAcc
13th May 2024 15:08

But not if you live in North Cornwall

Thanks (0)
Replying to DMBAcc:
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
13th May 2024 15:11

Or, since last week, Dover

Thanks (1)
Replying to DMBAcc:
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By Balancing
13th May 2024 15:24

Why, wont s/he help?

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Replying to Balancing:
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By tax91
13th May 2024 15:49

Pleased to read your comment 'Balancing'. I do the exact same thing. If after a number of attempts and HMRC are still not responding then rather than waste more time and money go via the Parliamentary Estate. It allows your client's MP to know the exact difficulties occurring due to lack of response from HMRC - and this is especially relevant in an election year. If you need a response and HMRC are not responding then it is the only way to go.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Balancing:
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 16:21

Good point Balancing!
Never mind HMRC. I everyone just emailed/rang their MP with their HMRC queries.... I'm pretty sure good things would happen rather quickly; Yes?

Thanks (0)
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By usedbyhmrc
13th May 2024 15:11

https://www.brookstreet.co.uk/job/customer-service-advisor-telephony-8?s...

judging by the number of adverts springing up, it looks like it's a short term fix using agency staff, interestingly agency staff are paid £13.04 an hour, whereas HMRC staff get £12.99 an hour.

The £13.04 doesn't include any "commission" that the agency will take.

"This role will be a hybrid working role; however, all applicants must be situated within an hour of a HMRC site location as you will be required to attend the office from time to time."
"You will receive 2 weeks of in-house training to ensure you have the best knowledge."

Hmmm agency staff working from home, and with 2 weeks training what could go wrong.

Thanks (12)
Replying to usedbyhmrc:
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By Vallery Lee
13th May 2024 15:45

What could possibly go right might be a better question. We shall all have to just "wait and see" although for how long I have no idea.

Thanks (1)
Replying to usedbyhmrc:
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By Carol Jefferis
13th May 2024 16:06

If a whole 2 weeks of training is the amount needed to man HMRC helplines it is not surprising that they are so useless and unable to resolve issues when you call them.
Seems odd when HMRC are trying to impose a requirement for formal qualifications on all tax agents.

Thanks (11)
Replying to Carol Jefferis:
Morph
By kevinringer
13th May 2024 16:12

Indeed, and HMRC expect self-employed to have a good knowledge of SA, VAT, and if relevant employer's PAYE and CIS, above what HMRC expect their own staff to have (HMRC staff only deal with one tax).

Thanks (2)
Replying to Carol Jefferis:
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 19:14

Carol Jefferis! You 'naughty girl'!! Two weeks detention!!

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Replying to usedbyhmrc:
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By Carol Jefferis
13th May 2024 16:50

Presumably as part of their ID checks for this customer service role HMRC will make sure that no qualified accountants or tax accountants slip in to see what the 2 weeks training amounts to.
It would be interesting for the AWeb community to have someone in there working undercover. Maybe someone could volunteer their partner or offspring to perform this valuable public service?

Thanks (8)
Replying to Carol Jefferis:
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By Paul Crowley
13th May 2024 17:22

Now that does sound like a good idea

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Replying to Carol Jefferis:
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By Rob Swan
13th May 2024 19:12

Seconding Paul Crowley's proposal!

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Replying to usedbyhmrc:
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By unclejoe
13th May 2024 19:19

According to the Brook St ads, candidates will "...support the delivery of world class service..." Talk about deluded! Candidates need to be "...passionate about delivering excellent customer service..." and have "...brilliant communication skills..." Assuming a commission rate to Brook St of about 25% the £51m should pay for more than 1,900 phone agents. Assuming that they find this number of passionate brilliant communicators, who are able to master the intricacies of our tax system with two weeks training, and willing to work for £13/hour I can't imagine many of them will stick around for the full 10 months!

The ad sounds like a script for a Monty Python sketch.

Thanks (6)
Replying to unclejoe:
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By Rob Swan
14th May 2024 07:14

I'm pretty sure the two weeks training will be on basic call handling and how to use HMRC systems - nothing of substance relating to tax, or even HMRC processes, beyond what's necessary to 'handle' a call.
Remember, when you arr calling HMRC, if you get through! - you will be 'handled' by a call 'handler'. HMRC may call them agents, but come along...... They are call 'handlers', you are a 'nuisance' to HMRC, they want you to 'Go away'.
Honestly, I doubt the boys at Monty Python, (or even Basil Fawlty), could imagine such poor service. And...
"Your parrot is NOT deal! It's in the phone to HMRC."

Thanks (2)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
13th May 2024 15:15

90% of the calls we make to HMRC are due to
(a) their mistakes
(b) following up one something they havent done, or we dont know they have done
And to a lesser extent:
(c) things we cant do online but the client can, but agents are refused access.

If they want to stop the calls, they need to get their heads around doing stuff correctly first time, and secondly communicating better about where things are in their systems so we dont need to waste time following up.

Thanks (8)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
13th May 2024 15:15

90% of the calls we make to HMRC are due to
(a) their mistakes
(b) following up one something they havent done, or we dont know they have done
And to a lesser extent:
(c) things we cant do online but the client can, but agents are refused access.

If they want to stop the calls, they need to get their heads around doing stuff correctly first time, and secondly communicating better about where things are in their systems so we dont need to waste time following up.

Thanks (5)
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By Springfield
13th May 2024 15:26

The problem with the public sector, and that phrase includes politicians and all government funded bodies, is that they think the solution to all problems is to throw money at it. The NHS, HMRC, Policing, and all the rest, have plenty of tax-payers cash coming to them, they just choose to spend it poorly.

If you really wanted to fix HMRC you would develop, on a small scale, a proper model that worked. Once it was working you could gradually scale it up, until the existing shambles can disappear completely. HMRC in its current state is broken beyond repair and no amount of extra money is going to fix it. You have to start again and develop new something that actually works.

In a couple of years time I predict that HMRC standards will be worse, and the £51m will have magically re-appeared in HMRC executive salaries and bonuses.

Thanks (7)

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