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HMRC makes U-turn on permanent helpline cuts

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HMRC has performed a remarkable u-turn on plans to make permanent cuts to its helplines, less than 24 hours after proposals were unveiled.

20th Mar 2024
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HMRC has peformed a u-turn on controversial plans to make permanent cuts to its helplines, less than 24 hours after proposals were unveiled and strongly criticised.

Following feedback from concerned stakeholders, the changes to the Self-Assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines that were announced will be halted while HMRC engages with stakeholders about how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met as the department shifts more people to online self-service in the longer term.

The original announcement drew widespread criticism from readers and industry bodies, with Caroline Miskin, senior technical manager, digital taxation at ICAEW, calling the permanent move to answer VAT helpline calls on five business days a month “disappointing” and CIOT president Gary Ashford saying the organisation was “deeply dismayed”.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra has now said that while “making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity”, the pace of this change “needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online”.

“We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.”

"Common sense has prevailed"

A statement on behalf of the Treasury Committee noted it was “extremely pleased to see that common sense has prevailed”.

“We welcome the decision to reverse yesterday’s ill-advised announcement. While we do not oppose expansion of digital services for those who want to use them, we remain entirely unconvinced that HMRC is adequately prepared to impose such a significant change in how it serves taxpayers.

“Planned changes to the operation of HMRC's phonelines have been mismanaged from the beginning. Questions still remain over the extent to which the department are prioritising its own needs over those of law-abiding and vulnerable taxpayers.”

Miskin and Ashford have also welcomed the move.

“This surprising u-turn is good news for taxpayers, who need HMRC customer service to be responsive to their queries,” said Miskin. “If taxpayers can’t speak to a human when they need to, there is a real risk that they give up on trying to do the right thing and that errors and non-compliance increase.

Ashford added: “This pause is a good opportunity for HMRC to press a reset button on their attempts to force people into digital services by withdrawing phone help, rather than taking people with them by making the online option the attractive choice.”

It is the second such u-turn within a matter of weeks, following the government’s decision to reverse new guidance that classed double-cab pickups as cars rather than vans.

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Replies (115)

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By Self-Employed and Happy
20th Mar 2024 11:22

Just send Jim Harra to Accounting Web Question forum and we can advise him on what to do with HMRC.

Thanks (39)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By vinylnobbynobbs
20th Mar 2024 11:36

Self-Employed and Happy wrote:

Just send Jim Harra to Accounting Web Question forum and we can advise him on what to do with HMRC.


Would it fit ?
Thanks (17)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By FactChecker
20th Mar 2024 16:35

No point in advising him when he's not listening.

Final para in a Press Release that most people would've headed "Whoops - Sorry!" says:

"Those using HMRC’s online services rate them highly, with over 80% satisfaction ratings.
The HMRC app is used by 1.2 million customers each month and has a 4.8 out of 5 rating on the Apple App Store."

Anyone who isn't tone deaf and has minimum of 3 working brain cells can deduce:
* 20% (that's *many* millions p.a.) are dissatisfied - and increasingly angry;
* A Costa Coffee app has equivalent rating - but also doesn't solve my Tax queries!

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By petestar1969
20th Mar 2024 11:22

Excuse me while I fire up my laughter cannon.

Thanks (14)
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By Crouchy
20th Mar 2024 11:23

great, we just need them to listen to feedback on MTD ITsa now

Thanks (33)
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By norstar
20th Mar 2024 11:23

I just don't understand how the likes of Mr Harra and Ms MacDonald continue to run an organisation that badly yet keep their jobs. How can you roll this closure out "without having engaged stakeholders" first. How much more do they need to make a mess of before they go?! MTD overbudget by a billion, delayed and now this. Incompetent and out of touch.

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Replying to norstar:
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By Red1960
20th Mar 2024 12:22

Because the powers that be want it to be run that badly.

Obvious really.

Thanks (2)
Replying to norstar:
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By djtax
20th Mar 2024 15:33

Yes but, but..... surely they really do engage with Stakeholders (lol!): having just held their grand (costly?) 'Annual Stakeholder Conference' - which I attended. It was an utterly depressing event demonstrating how totally out of touch the top Exec Board of HMRC are from our small practitioner reality. I even managed (albeit very briefly) to collar Ms MacDonald though she gave the impression of being bored/disinterested in what I was trying to say.....
Out of an attendance of probably well over 200 I only came across two other small practitioners invited to attend.
No doubt Knighthoods and Damehoods will be dispensed in due course for running such a world leading service....!

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Replying to djtax:
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By norstar
20th Mar 2024 15:58

I'd love to go and give them some input. How do you find out about it? I mean, I only represent about 900 clients - what do I know!

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Replying to norstar:
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By djtax
20th Mar 2024 17:24

The problem is that it is invitation only - not quite sure how I managed to get on the list (which seems to be almost entirely just the prof bodies, the big firms, other business related national bodies eg CBI etc). My worry was that there were so few small practitioners present that it implies HMRC are simply not engaging with our end of the spectrum.

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Replying to djtax:
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By Red1960
22nd Mar 2024 09:51

Frankly I don't think they give a damn about stakeholders or small practitioners and they and the big firms who control the prof bodies, the software companies and other interested parties have made that all perfectly clear in my opinion at least.

What have small practitioners got to offer senior civil servants and politicians? We all know what the big firms will offer them and that they can and do wield sufficient influence, the right connections and plenty of "carrots" to ensure they get their way.

I think you got a flavour of it at the conference from Ms MacDonald, and you have my sympathies by the way, but what have you got to offer her that she would be interested in?

The point is that vested interests simply have more influence and bigger "carrots" to offer.

It must have been soul destroying to watch close up because they really just don't care and it's not even malicious.

The only thing that small practitioners have on their side is the public who are unaware and distracted from having their attention focussed upon the fact that their interests are being trampled underfoot on this important issue.

Small practitioners need to get this issue onto the public agenda to get it stopped.

Now is the perfect opportunity for a number of reasons but this won't happen without the obfuscation and obstruction from those vested interests and their representatives who see an opportunity to advance their own interests including those in the profession.

I can think of a few individuals whose behaviour on this subject has been quite shameless but no one calls them out. You'll know who I mean yourself and gave a little pointer in your post.

Are small practices savvy enough to appreciate all of this?

I'd like to think so but they'll have to shed a few preconceptions along the way if they really want to do anything about it.

Thanks (1)
Replying to norstar:
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By flightdeck
20th Mar 2024 21:22

Because the powers that be also have not a clue about how to run a business properly. Blind leading the blind.

"What's that you say? 5 times over budget? FIVE! I say, well done - the private sector rarely achieves 2x over budget! Tea and medal all round!" *

* MTD

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Replying to flightdeck:
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By Red1960
22nd Mar 2024 10:18

Who benefits from that? Who received those contracts? Who made the money?

State v private sector is not a discrete distinction.

As I see it life is only ever that simple in fantasy super hero films.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Red1960:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
22nd Mar 2024 12:55

You haven't heard?

Coming so soon.....
"The Guys from The Covernment"
starring...
Jeremy Jeronimo - with underpants over his trousers and swooshing cape!
Jumbo Jim - his bespectacled servant in a plain blue suit!

They're destined to save the world and make all our lives wonderful.
It's a nail-biter, to The End!!

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By johnjenkins
22nd Mar 2024 13:36

What about Rishy washy?

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Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
20th Mar 2024 11:23

Jeremy said "No!" And I'll bet Harra has had a bit of a spanking from No. 11.
The next question should be "Does this actually improve anything?"

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By Mr J Andrews
20th Mar 2024 12:22

He probably enjoyed it.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By johnjenkins
20th Mar 2024 12:25

Don't knock it unless you've tried it.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Rob Swan:
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By Red1960
20th Mar 2024 12:26

Naive at best... this is an election year.

It's time that MTD was placed firmly on the public agenda.

I think Jeremy's cojones are going to be shown to be entirely absent.

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By JCresswellTax
20th Mar 2024 11:25

Absolute clueless idiots!

Thanks (24)
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By WallyGandy
20th Mar 2024 11:26

I keep thinking "whatever next" to show total incompetence..... best wait until next week or tomorrow? Words used to fail me- not now. Speak out- HMRC may listen? Errrr no.....

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By philaccountant
20th Mar 2024 11:26

“making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity”

What are these taxpayers he speaks of? I thought they were customers Jim?

Thanks (14)
Replying to philaccountant:
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By Beancounter55
20th Mar 2024 11:40

Indeed. I have decided to take my custom elsewhere having waited over 40 minutes on two occasions for my call to be answered at all (that ignores the time I got through and then they cut the line at their end) to ask where my £3.6k tax refund was, and why it hadn’t been repaid considering that my return was lodged on 26/6/23.
The ‘system’ told me that I should have received a response by 17/7/23, but it didn’t do any such thing. The person that I spoke to said I would have to wait 10 weeks whilst they investigated why my refund was still in the Treasury’s funds and not in my bank account. I suggested that I would issue a fine in the same way that HMRC would fine me if I was late paying my self assessment - I may as well have been speaking to someone from another universe as the response was just “that is how long it takes - would you like me to mark it as urgent?”

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Replying to Beancounter55:
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By Cathy Milligan
20th Mar 2024 11:49

If only we could take our custom (and our "customers" custom) elsewhere....

Thanks (5)
Replying to Cathy Milligan:
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By Ajtms
20th Mar 2024 12:17

Yes, I too always make a formal written complaint and get HMRC to may my client the cost of my fees for correcting HMRC incompetence

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Replying to Beancounter55:
DougScott
By Dougscott
20th Mar 2024 12:00

You need to make a formal complaint. I find things tend to happen quicker then especially if you say you will be charging accountants fees to them (and I have had some of my fees paid in the past by HMRC).

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Replying to Dougscott:
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By djames
20th Mar 2024 12:08

A formal compliant used to work 10 years ago, but now gets the same attention as any other letter in my experience.
I made two formal complaints last year on behalf of clients ( both in January 2023) regarding refunds still outstanding (one cis refund from 2021/22 and 1 vat refund). The CIS refund was eventually repaid in December, £1000 short, with no letter or explanation as to how it had been calculated and no response to my compliant. The VAT refund is still outstanding, no reply and getting nowhere with chasing it, just passed from pillar to post. I've left it with the client now (as he has stopped paying me) and he's in contact with his MP.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Dougscott:
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By Red1960
20th Mar 2024 12:29

I'd be interested to hear how much you received.

In my experience despite many claims... HMRC have yet to pay a penny in compensation.

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Replying to Red1960:
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By Open all hours
20th Mar 2024 13:18

Our client got £50 despite there being ‘no evidence’ of a phone call being made. We took that to mean no evidence that would not severely embarrass HMRC were it to be played.

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Replying to Open all hours:
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By rememberscarborough
20th Mar 2024 14:25

Wonder what would happen if you informed them that you were recording the call at the beginning? Suspect the HMRC "assistant" would suddenly find themselves going through a tunnel and the call would be lost....

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Replying to rememberscarborough:
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By Open all hours
20th Mar 2024 14:38

That would be my expectation. Our call was not heated let alone aggressive - it was witnessed but not recorded. It concerned HMRC demand for July 23 tax which had clearly been paid. HMRC advisor was polite but obstructive and simply cut us off.

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By Husbandofstinky
20th Mar 2024 11:28

Speechless..... Again.

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Mike Grant
By Michael_R_Grant
20th Mar 2024 11:29

Well, well well! 'If it isn't the consequences of my actions...'

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By almost_a_geek
20th Mar 2024 11:29

Yeah but let's not get carried away, they'll leave the helpline open to appease the masses, just reduce the number of caseworkers to answer calls.

We'll see average waiting times up to over an hour, mark my words...

Thanks (18)
Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
20th Mar 2024 11:29

First it was twin-cab pickups, now this - why, oh why, does HMRC not consult before making significant changes?

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By Springfield
20th Mar 2024 11:29

If Harra had any self-awareness he'd resign immediately.

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By michael2022A
20th Mar 2024 11:30

It's almost like they listened to their "Customers"!

Thanks (1)
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By biff1001
20th Mar 2024 11:30

I used to think Yes Prime Minister was satirical until i realised it's how this country is actually run!
Well the joke is on us!

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Replying to biff1001:
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By Open all hours
20th Mar 2024 13:19

No, it was a documentary.

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By Eric T
20th Mar 2024 11:30

Utter chaos.

I feel like I'm in a car driven by drunk clowns.

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Replying to Eric T:
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By Ben Alligin
20th Mar 2024 11:32

I suspect that is more to do with the driver avoiding the potholes, then any alcohol consumed by the clowns.

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By Tax Taunton
20th Mar 2024 11:32

Parties and breweries spring to mind. In this instance it is sad that HMRC think they can ride roughshod over taxpayers and get away with it. In my opinion if HMRC engaged with tax payers in a meaningful and understanding way, the tax take ould increase significantly. The current punitive regime with lack of dialogue between HMRC and the taxpayer only leads to greater appetite for evading tax. As I write, I am on hold to the ADL (55 minutes so far...) chasing a 2021-22 CIS refund that we were promised would be resolved in September last year. I suspect a caseworker hasn't even been appointed yet.

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Richard Sergeant
By Richard Sergeant
20th Mar 2024 11:34

It's AccountingWEB members wot won it

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Replying to rsergeant:
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By johnjenkins
20th Mar 2024 12:29

Then why is MTDITSA still going ahead?

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Replying to johnjenkins:
By Charlie Carne
20th Mar 2024 12:46

Because it's still a good idea (in principle, if not in execution!).

.....I'll get my coat! :)

Thanks (1)
Replying to charliecarne:
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By Red1960
20th Mar 2024 16:16

Please do!

You know where the door is.

;-)

Thanks (1)
By K81
20th Mar 2024 11:35

my concern is what is going on in the background while HMRC distract us with things like this.

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ACG in blue circles
By ACG Accounting Services
20th Mar 2024 11:38

If there online services were easy for people to follow and get the help they needed that would be fine.
HMRC are not fit for purpose. The majority of the time we need to contact them is because they have messed up.
All they are doing is adding stress to the small business and making accountants and tax agents lives more difficult and stressful.
We are piggy's in the middle between HMRC and our clients.

Thanks (1)
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By TB93
20th Mar 2024 11:38

These guys are absolute jokers.

First the double-cab pickups, now this. What's next, ITSA? Please.

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By Richardrussell
20th Mar 2024 11:39

Making it up as they go along.

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