HMRC helplines back to four days a weekby
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.
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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