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HMRC reveals new communication strategies

15th Apr 2016
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The administrative burdens advisory board (ABAB) has released the results of its “Tell ABAB” facility which received more than 2,000 responses from business owners and accountants.

AccountingWEB’s tax policy editor Rebecca Cave covered the launch of the facility last summer. ABAB, she explained, is “an independent board that seeks to bring a business perspective to HMRC’s work – and boy, is that needed judging from some of the comments on AccountingWEB”.

Once and done

From the results, communicating with the taxman remains the biggest bugbear. But the report identified two initiatives HMRC implemented to ameliorate the poor service levels. First, is a change of service philosophy to something HMRC is calling “The once & done project”.

“[It] has been developed to deliver process changes that allow Call Handlers to deal with more the first time around, reducing the need for you to write to HMRC, for HMRC to write to you, and for HMRC to ‘hand off’ questions between its own staff,” reads the report.

HMRC will now implement a “phone first” policy, too. Phone first will allow HMRC staff members to phone you for clarification or additional information regarding the correspondence subject.

Up to 2,000 respondents also indicated a very strong desire to access other, non-traditional channels of communication, said ABAB. For this desire, Making Tax Digital was offered as a remedy for HMRC’s communication woes.  

“It brings together access to all key online services, guidance and information providing a joined-up experience for you, giving you the ability to perform a number of transactions with HMRC in a single place,” read the report. “About 3.5 million people have used the new service, YTA [Your Tax Account], with overall satisfaction levels routinely measuring more than 75%, in the first half of 2015/16.”

Alongside MTD, HMRC is apparently trialling a clutch of new digital communications, including “Web chat” for those with SA queries, a “virtual assistant” for the online services helpdesk, and a move from paper to “secure digital messaging via your digital tax account”.

Agent online self-serve

Buried a little deeper in the report, one can find some fresh detail on accounting’s unicorn, the much vaunted AOSS.

AOSS, according to HMRC, will revolutionise the way agents deal with them. The service is currently being beta tested by a select group of 1,500 accountants. But, according to the report, there’s an “intention to extend this group during the remainder of 2015/16”.

For those outside the beta test, a separate weekly meeting is also held around a range of topics where agents can hear from and ask questions of the subject matter experts. “If you are an agent and would like to get involved in these weekly meetings please email the Agent Engagement mailbox [[email protected]]”.

Other results

In ABAB’s survey results, respondents identified several other categories of particular strain when dealing with the tax authority:

  • Personalisation: “You want your tax affairs to be all in one place and for HMRC ‘departments’ to be much more joined-up. There is also a need to only receive what is relevant to you targeted to your specific business/circumstances.”
  • Digital: “Those of you who are online want to do more online and have suggested ways to make specific tasks easier.”
  • HMRC attitude and approach to small businesses: “You want HMRC to better understand the day to day pressures you face running your small business and to have more empathy when dealing with you.”
  • Policy & legislation: “You want Government policies and legislation to be modernised and simplified, recognising the needs of small business so to encourage innovation and growth.”
  • Processes & systems: “You want clearer guidance and greater consistency across specific services such as VAT, CIS.”
  • Payments & refunds: “You want the mechanisms and policies for payments and refunds to work better for you and your business.”
  • General admin burdens: “You want to spend less time on tax administration and to have greater consistency across different taxes to reduce the burden in running your business.”
  • Working with agents: “You want agents to be able to deal with HMRC on behalf of your business more easily.”

Replies (17)

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By the_Poacher
18th Apr 2016 19:43

As crap as all the rest
Does anyone have any faith in HMRC anymore? Almost every project they do seems to make things worse.

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By john5052
20th Apr 2016 11:03

The answer is simple which is for HMRC to answer the phone as soon as it rings and have the person who answers fully able to deal with the callers query. Only then can the matter be dealt with in one go and without the soul destroying crap music waiting each time for the call to be answered if indeed it is.

In our practices we do this all day. Employ the right people and have a phone system without the stupid junk response recordings so beloved of entities which either don't know how to or don't want to deal with "customers".

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By Just saying
20th Apr 2016 11:06

AOSS has been renamed - now called "Agent Services".  

There is an HMRC Talking Points session about this on Thursday 19th May at mid-day.

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By Tom 7000
20th Apr 2016 11:26

todays telephone call...

sorry its taken 5 months to deal with this issue...we are very short staffed and there's more redundancies on the way


spose the government has to reduce the deficit somewhere...

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By Ruth Corkin
20th Apr 2016 12:02

If only HMRC would "Phone First!"

I have spent most of the last 2 weeks in between various client and other meetings trying to contact HMRC. In the cases in question, most of the issues could have been cleared up if HMRC had given me a call to clarify some of the details.

One case nearly led to a client losing a valuable contract in the UK because the VAT registration was taking so long. The queries raised could have been answered in a simple phone call!!

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By Michael C Feltham
20th Apr 2016 12:23

Wonderful Fairy Tale...

To speed me on my way. After close of play this evening, I am away abroad.

It is a fact; simple, absolute and undeniable.

HMRC have erected a Communications Firewall in order to prevent taxpayers and even agents contacting them. As have most major businesses; particularly ISPs, telecom providers, banks et al.

Having tried vainfully to speak to the agent helpline, over one month ago, I eventually did succeed. To be connected to a brain-dead dipstick who hadn't a wee clue.

Thus I wrote, three letters, in early March. The problems: Client One received a penalty notice for failing to file a tax return; wrong filed and £16K tax due paid. Not good enough for the great Gods HMRC. Then followed a series of penalty notices demanding £16K + interest be paid immediately!! With dire threats... and more.

Problem Two: HMRC had raised a new UTR for this client; neither he nor I had ever heard of this new UTR. Client going bananas, as we recently unwound loads of tax problems for the poor guy over two years. Wrote again as the penalties piled up. This time actually mentioning the £16K: err now where did they magic this number up from? The correct tax return showed £16K, yet on the correct UTR!!

Client Two: HMRC sent a default penalty notice for failing to file a partnership return. problem being the Partnership ceased in the previous tax year and HMRC were duly notified on the partnership return and both partner's personal SA100s. When writing, I enclose copies of the relevant previous year's returns and statements reference cessation.

Reply? I am still waiting.....

We live in a digital age: so we are constantly informed by Government and HMRC: yet HMRC do not advertise email aliases: fax numbers are now virtually redundant. No contact possible with area offices; no dedicated addresses for correspondence.



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By mydoghasfleas
20th Apr 2016 13:17

Individual responsibility is needed

There was a time where local tax offices existed and operated on their own patches.  Staff had specific allocations of work with the result that if you did not deal with the problem it would keep coming back to you.  There were many things wrong with the system but there were so many things that were right.  Whilst staff may not have felt in control at least they knew what they were doing and who they were dealing with.  The Inspectors knew their patch and the businesses on it.

I am not advocating a return to the good old days, they weren't particularly good and they still aren't old but HMRC staff having individual responsibility for a group of taxpayers rather than all of them might be a place to start and that person was the one who picked up the phone when you called.

No matter how much is digital, someone has to be responsible for sorting things out.  At the moment I think the last one has left the building but not switched off the lights in the hope we believe someone is still there.

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By HM_Rhubarb_and_Custard
20th Apr 2016 13:18

This is good to see them working on this type of thing. Honestly, as a small practice with 350 ish clients, we've found apart from anything remotely to do with CIS ,they are pretty easy to deal with these days, certainly improved over the last 10 year.

The agent manager escalation service normally has a good turnaround. The general agent 'bat phone' deals with most things easily.

Emailing officers re enquiries makes life easy where this is allowed.

Its only really CIS and/or RTI issues where we waste time these days.

I see a lot of negatives written, but found in practice they are generally fine for our needs.

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By Steve Botham
20th Apr 2016 15:39


Communication tends to involve two or more parties.  The issue with that is that often when trying to reach HMRC there is only one person trying to communicate.

I won't repeat the moans about call handling by HMRC, nor even complain about people on the end of the phone who have training needs, but the biggest problem with phone calls is having a record which someone in HMRC is willing to believe at a later date.  Even with call references you can have little comfort as to what has been recorded. I suspect most of us have come across instances where even with our own file notes, HMRC has sought further "evidence"  - and too many times clients have been told there is "no evidence" of their calls to HMRC.

I gave up some time ago on the hope that HMRC (or whoever is holding the purse strings) would relent and permit local human contact, which as a general rule seemed to work quite well, but the inability to easily find fax and email addresses is downright annoying - and both of these forms of corresponding with HMRC have the benefit of being able to show that the communication has delivered to HMRC. 

And in VAT when it comes to HMRC calling us, the debt management unit does it, as do the visit booking people. The rest seem to rely on sending letters via a black hole.  Email addresses for some at least appear to be a state secret.

Apologies for the rant.  Hit a sore point today!

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By Michael Wigg
20th Apr 2016 16:20

Contact with people

Perhaps I was fortunate in having a local tax office, where I could talk to 'Joe Bloggs'. have a sensible discussion and come to a proper decision. Now everybody I talk to hardly understands the question, let alone gives an answer. In the 'good old days' I felt that the Inspector knew a great deal and wanted to give a proper answer. Does anybody remember seeing small taxpayers being helped to complete a tax return, on a one to one basis in the tax office? 

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By moneymanager
21st Apr 2016 12:10


me; a very long time ago!

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Replying to Michael Wigg:
By Michael Wigg
16th May 2016 19:55

I even knew Tax Inspectors by Christian names, and believed that they knew a great deal about tax law and practice and even understood what I was talking or writing about. On occasion they even suggested a way by which I could achieve the best result for a client.

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Replying to Michael Wigg:
By JohnKnowsley
25th May 2016 22:16

Well, times have changed although at KinsellaTax - - we still try to do business as in the 'good old days' and be 100% on the taxpayers side.

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By Old Greying Accountant
20th Apr 2016 21:40

I notice ...

... on CIS you now have to adjust returns yourself online, you will not be able to phone up with adjustments.

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By moneymanager
21st Apr 2016 00:11


pick up duh 'phone.

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21st Apr 2016 11:52

and this government.....

....  has the gall to proclaim that they are improving the lot of small business.  It would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

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By AndrewV12
16th Nov 2016 13:49

MMMMm over all HMRc is okay to communicate with, but there is such a delay in processing paper forms, 64/8, letters, advice etc.

OVER ALL I DO NOT WANT CHANGE I CAN JUST ABOUT LIKE WITH THE CURRENT STATUS. But the music and wait are a bit naff, if you dont call at 9am, brace yourself.

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