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HMRC service plan overshadowed by NAO criticism

10th Jun 2016
Freelance journalist
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HMRC
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Maximise tax revenues, tighten measures against tax avoidance and evasion, make it easier to pay and manage tax online and become more efficient.

That’s the gist of HMRC plan for 2015-2020, which it published in May.

Most of it seemed to re-affirm previous targets.

The plan came in the same week of a report by the National Audit Office (NAO), which said that the quality of HMRC’s service for personal taxpayers “collapsed” in 2014-15 and the first seven months of 2015-16 when average call waiting times tripled.

HMRC said that it’s three priorities are to “maximise revenues due and bear down on avoidance and evasion”; “transform tax and payments for our customers”; and “design and deliver a professional, efficient and engaged organisation.”

In a blog, Kate Upcraft, an expert on payroll, asked why HMRC published its plan the day before the highly critical NAO report and not prior to the tax year as had been expected.

She agreed with the NAO report that HMRC’s assumptions about the introduction of more digital technology into the tax system.

“Given there now appears to be universal agreement from within HMRC (their Admin Burdens Advisory Board (ABAB) and externally from the NAO, that predicted cost savings from RTI were actually translated into cost burdens, what will the conclusions be of the long-awaited Post-Implementation Review of RTI that we hope will see the light of day this summer?” Upcraft said.

In response to the NAO report, HMRC’s director general for customer service, Ruth Owen, admitted that HMRC’s service in early 2015 was unsatisfactory service but said it had ‘fully recovered’. HMRC has hired 3,000 additional advisers, a new telephone system, and a new online service as examples of customer service improvements.

She added: “Over the past six months we’ve consistently answered calls in an average of six minutes, and have launched new online tax accounts and webchat for everyone, enabling customers to manage their tax affairs wherever and whenever they want. “There’s never been a better or more convenient service for our customers.”

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents HMRC workers, said: "The [HMRC] plan fails to address the huge impact job cuts have had on HMRC's ability to provide a proper service to taxpayers, as we have consistently pointed out in recent years and the NAO recently identified. Instead, the department is ploughing ahead with plans to close all but a handful of its 170 UK offices and shed thousands more staff, so it is impossible to see how things will improve."

Accounting WEB subscribers were also unimpressed by HMRC’s performance and plan.

“Most of us already know that the senior management of HMRC would have trouble running a whelk stall,” said Moonbeam. “Telephone queries could be avoided if tax wasn't so very complicated and HMRC's systems weren't so awful. Someone needs to tell HMRC - no, it's not all on their website.”

Meanwhile, The_Poacher suggested a sardonic improvement plan for HMRC, including:
1. Cut staff pay, that'll motivate them to work harder
2. Cut their severance terms, so they can't afford to take redundancy
3. Shut the local offices and make staff travel further to work to try and encourage older experienced and better paid staff to retire
4. Give them really poor IT to work with
5. Make pointless ill thought out changes to the legislation and expect HMRC to cope

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