HMRC reveals new communication strategies
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]]”.
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.”