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HMRC helplines back to four days a week

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After a ‘test’ exercise in December, HMRC will temporarily close VAT and corporation tax helplines on Fridays in February and March as the tax office continues to work through stocks of post built up over the past year. 

17th Feb 2022
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HMRC chief executive Jim Harra confirmed to agents on Wednesday the closure of VAT and corporation tax helplines across three Fridays in February and March, giving the HMRC staff time to work through the backlog of posts. 

The decision to close these lines comes shortly after a successful ‘test and learn’ closure of these lines in December. Harra explained that the dedicated time to focus on post enabled the department to clear more than 4,000 additional pieces of post each day. 

He said, “We saw an increased productivity rate among colleagues, above our initial planning assumptions, who were able to focus on the task without stopping mid-way through to take a phone call.” 

The VAT and corporation tax will be closed on Fridays from 25 February until 25 March, although the VAT line will be open on the 4 March to cater for the month-end deadline. 

When the phone lines were shuttered in December, HMRC received around 2,500 extra calls over the three Mondays after the Friday closures. Harra, though, said the department was still able to offer an “acceptable level of service”.

Why have they been overrun?

HMRC has been playing catch up ever since it redirected frontline support to aid the twin challenges of the Covid support schemes and the transition of the UK leaving the European Union. 

HMRC is now able to turn its attention to the stocks of post after the Covid support services had wound down in October 2021. 

The tax office has said before - and repeated now - that these measures are temporary, and acknowledged that it selected these dates to avoid the VAT peak. When HMRC closed the specialist lines in December, it aspired to be back on top of its backlog by April 2022. 

While Harra expects to see a significant improvement in their service levels based on its current plans, he hasn’t shut the door on future helpline closures. 

“We are still considering how our learning could be used to help other telephony lines within our business in the future,” he said.  

The impact on profession

AccountingWEB contributor Rickie Lowery was broadly sympathetic with HMRC back when the phone lines shut in December. “I am content to have reduced access to HMRC support if it means the forms I would have called about get processed more quickly (especially if it is so quick that I don’t need to call about them in the first place!).”

However, Lowery raised concern about how the loss of the helpline could impact queries unrelated to a form or unrepresented taxpayers. 

HMRC finds itself in a tough situation where it has a mounting backlog of posts and only so many days in the working week to tackle it. The impact of the buildup of posts is often a frequent discussion point on AccountingWEB’s Any Answers forum.  

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Replies (25)

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LL
By RickyRoark
17th Feb 2022 16:35

"Learning about the test in December, AccountingWEB readers were largely unconvinced by HMRC aspirations."

I imagine we're still unconvinced now.

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Replying to RickyRoark:
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By Hugo Fair
17th Feb 2022 22:27

Oh I don't know ... they claim to have had "a successful ‘test and learn’ closure of these lines in December". Surely that's got to be an improvement over the old test-and-ignore-the-results approach that they've previously adopted.

Having said which, it's not hard to be successful at closing lines ... it's keeping them open (and answering the queries accurately and timeously) that would be a real achievement!.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By Paul Crowley
17th Feb 2022 19:32

Not shut, just shuttering

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By Open all hours
17th Feb 2022 16:45

When did a backlog become ‘stock’?

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Replying to Open all hours:
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By moneymanager
18th Feb 2022 11:18

When? When taxpayers became captive "customers".

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By CJaneH
17th Feb 2022 17:22

Is HMRC aim to alter the English language?
Telephony - taking phone calls
Shuttering - Not answering the phone
Stock - Backlog of post
Customers - taxpayers

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Replying to CJaneH:
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By carnmores
17th Feb 2022 17:18

its cojones, round objects . which reminds me of Yes Minster - who is Round and what does he object to

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ghm
By TaxTeddy
18th Feb 2022 09:00

Very useful - it reminded me to close our switchboard for the day.

Ahhh, peace.

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By Crouchy
18th Feb 2022 09:40

what a farce HMRC are, at what point are they going to be held accountable for anything

more staff (trained staff!) less automation and more respect for their 'customers' is whats needed

in another organisation / business, they'd be out of business by now

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By The Innkeeper
18th Feb 2022 09:59

Wish this would be published in the general press so that our clients understand the problems that we have in dealing with their affairs and things not progressing

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By TB93
18th Feb 2022 10:00

It's difficult enough at the best of times to get through to the VAT helpline, I often find myself being cut off after listening to a few minutes worth of automated messages. I can only imagine the frustration this will cause if concentrating a larger number of calls into 4 days.

The systems need re-working.

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Replying to TB93:
By Nick Graves
18th Feb 2022 12:05

TB93 wrote:

It's difficult enough at the best of times to get through to the VAT helpline, I often find myself being cut off after listening to a few minutes worth of automated messages. I can only imagine the frustration this will cause if concentrating a larger number of calls into 4 days.

The systems need re-working.

That automessage really poils my biss, even before I'm cancelled.

Can they not return to muzak? Actually, I'd suggest 'Sunny Afternoon' by The Kinks would be apposite - and might improve callers' moods...

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Tornado
By Tornado
18th Feb 2022 11:35

I wrote to a local council on Tuesday to advise them of a change in property ownership and the changes required to the Council Tax records.

On Wednesday I received an email confirming receipt of my letter and confirmation that they were making the changes to their records accordingly.

Although this is generally what we should expect from all public services, I did thank them for their prompt attention and bemoaned the fact that H M Land Registry had taken three and a half months to register changes to the same property.

Quite frankly, I expect the same sort of prompt service from HMRC that I received from this local council. (Note the reply by email)

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By moneymanager
18th Feb 2022 12:03

"Why have they been overrun?"

It's own systems contribute to the workload and a recent event showed the work and cost it created for others.

1) A deffered VAT payment was paid in July 2020,
2) the VAT account acknowledged the payment
3) an overdue demands was issued in September of 2021!
4) HMRC then libels the companyby issuing the file to its debt collection agency
5) who closes it down and refers

What dammed hope is there when they make this carp digital?

Way back in the dark ages, I was involved in a few "first" deployments of computerised account and inventory management systems and the ABSOLUTE key was to have the manual system buttoned down first.

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By unclejoe
18th Feb 2022 12:44

So Harra says that they are still able to offer an "acceptable level of service". It begs the question, acceptable to who? I suggest that it is not acceptable to his "customers". But, of course, calling us taxpayers customers is another HMRC lie. If Harra really believes that his service is acceptable he really ought to get the sack.

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Morph
By kevinringer
18th Feb 2022 13:09

I point I made during the December Friday closures was they should not have closed on Friday. They are already closed on Saturday and Sunday which means the calls they would have handled on Friday are now pushed to Monday which means the busiest day of the week is even busier. I found it impossible to get through to the VAT helpline on Mondays during December. I argued in December it would have made more sense to close on Wednesday because that spreads the calls rather than bunching them up. HMRC claim they have learnt from December. Well they didn't learn this. So what did they learn?

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By Ian McTernan CTA
18th Feb 2022 13:23

If they really want to make us believe we are 'customers' then surely they should be extending their opening hours, not removing days and making it even harder to contact them.

They should be open into the evening and at weekends.

This is all just a drive to try and move everything online (which clearly doesn't work).

I wonder if we can use this as a late filing excuse: I tried to call HMRC about the issue on the Friday, to discover they were closed. Tried again Monday, couldn't get through. Client wasn't prepared to pay another two hours of time just for me to finally get through to the 'helpline' and so the return was filed the following Monday after several more failed attempts to get through.

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By Abacus 155 Limited
18th Feb 2022 13:54

The words that come out of HMRC are amazing and unbelievable
How can the answering speed of phone calls be acceptable when there are 25,000 extra calls when it is totally unacceptable at normal levels ? It would be interesting to knows the difference on call handling times
Getting the staff to work Saturdays / Sundays to clear the backlog is the obvious answer and it would be interesting to know if staff working part of the week from home and not being as productive is the cause of some or all of the backlog. If they have been working from home and not being as productive they should now be working the extra days to catch up at no extra cost. that would focus the mind somewhat.

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By Mr J Andrews
18th Feb 2022 15:09

Who uses the HMRC ''Helpline'' anyway. Does anyone seriously get any help - if they can get through ? Surely this ''service'' became a dead duck when the CEO - Harra - came on the scene and turned around this declining Government department into its lowest ever depths. It's not a case of Hurrah for Harra but Hurry Harra for your massive pension for someone else to pick up the pieces and try and get some stability back into the HMRC's administration.
The sub heading ....'Why Have They Been Overrun...' has nothing to do with the twin challenges of Covid & Brexit. Quite simply it's down to Harra's blind stupidity as to what HMRC's functions are , how to deploy resources, rather than cut staff to the bone, prioritising and implementing measures to get the tax in and stop the continued whimsical proposals before the previous-and usually dumb- ideas have had chance to take effect. It's patently obvious the current delays and backlog are for no other reason than Harra's inability to see any HMRC plan through to fruition.
The country's black economy is rife. Ask around for any household repair job and there's an endless number of quotes for a good price for cash , with the alternative that it's otherwise VAT on top. Let's not pretend otherwise. What does Harra do about the black economy ? He pushes along mindlessly with MTD - his answer to taxpayers getting it right . Utter crap. This is just the tip of the iceberg where Harra should have retained competent staff to tackle the increasing tax evasion in the country.
But let's all carry on and pretend this man Harra is doing a wonderful job.
If anything a Helpline should be set up for HMRC staff to call upon for help.

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By Hometing
18th Feb 2022 16:21

So all four people on the phones will be helping elsewhere on Fridays. Got it.

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Replying to Hometing:
Tornado
By Tornado
18th Feb 2022 16:54

No. There were four helplines but only two operators.

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By tedbuck
21st Feb 2022 11:17

Nice to see the temperature rising and I so agree that the Press ought to be reporting on this - but tax is boring and no-one is interested unless a few celebs are involved. It is really going raise absolute mayhem if and when MTD for ITSA hits the fan. HMRC are totally incompetent now and one can only blame the leadership. From what I can gather about HMRC their systems just are not fit for purpose. Surprise? I think not. Still the other side is if they don't respond they can raise a few more fines and help Rishi's disaster fund. Much more fun that chasing down £4.9bn BBL defaulters. Can't be bothered to do tat - might involve using brainpower of which there seems to be a bit of a shortage. Let's just raise the taxes on the poor people who actually pay - never mind the black economy - at least we don't have to process their tax returns and waste time on that.
Hey people in the world - do you mind paying the taxes for all the back-pocket people as well as the tax avoiders in the Football world? The back pocket people probably claim benefits as well so we pay doubly. Don't you just love HMRC?

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By AndrewV12
24th Feb 2022 12:45

To be fair, to be fair HMRC staff have done the best they can working from Home , etc during the pandemic. :)

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Replying to AndrewV12:
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By carnmores
24th Feb 2022 14:56

from my experience i dispute that

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