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HMRC targets 30% call volume reduction

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HMRC chief Jim Harra has confirmed that by the end of 2024, the tax authority will need to reduce its phone helpline volume by almost a third in order to tackle rising demand.

20th Oct 2023
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The revelation was made during a Treasury Committee meeting in which Harra, as well as Angela MacDonald, HMRC's deputy chief executive, were questioned by committee members over the tax authority's recent track record.

Swimming against the current

During the session, Harra highlighted the Revenue's continued push to encourage taxpayers to turn to HMRC's digital channels in the face of reduced resources and revealed that plans were in place to push as many 'customers' as possible to its digital self-service platforms. He also estimated that call volumes would need to fall by around a third in order for HMRC to hit its service targets.

“We are not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post which is why you know our strategy is to reduce that contact demand,” Harra said. “We estimate that we need to reduce our contact demand by about 30% by the end of next year, compared with the 2021-22 baseline, to be able to hit our service standards with the reduced resources that we have.”

Harra pointed out that the increasing number of calls to helplines was a key factor in HMRC's decision, arguing that many calls could easily be dealt with online.

“In 22/23, we got 38 million calls, which was three million more than the year before … we effectively have to swim against the current to remove that contact demand. The good news is that we have plenty of evidence that within that contact demand, there is demand that is unnecessary or that can relatively easily be self-served online,” Harra continued.

AccountingWEB reported on this issue earlier in the year after HMRC revealed that it receives an estimated 519,000 phone calls a year from people looking for confirmation of their national insurance (NI) number. The Revenue has since introduced a feature that allows taxpayers to view their NI confirmation letter online or via the HMRC app, rather than waiting up to 15 days for the tax authority to resend the letter by post.

Summer closure

Earlier in the hearing, both Harra and MacDonald were also grilled on HMRC’s decision to close the self assessment helpline over the summer months, with committee chair Harriet Baldwin taking note of the two-day notice period given to customers before the beginning of the pilot.

MacDonald admitted that ensuring all relevant organisations were notified was the main reason for the late announcement.

“By the time we had managed to get our way through all of the range of stakeholders who we needed to internally, who we needed to talk through, we ran out of the time that we would have ideally had to have to communicate further and more fully,” MacDonald said.

Harra also emphasised that, while talks of the pilot had been developing for months prior, “it was important that it be introduced as quickly as possible because we really did want to lift the trial again in early September.”

“If it wasn't successful, and there was a lot of pent-up demand. There will be time to deal with that before the paper filing deadline at the end of October,” Harra concluded. 

However, Hara also admitted that customer satisfaction with digital services also dropped by nearly 5% during the summer pilot, from 29% to 24.5%.

While data is still being collected from the previous scheme, MacDonald mentioned that plans for future helpline closure pilots are in progress. She also added that "no matter how competent the digital services that you offer, some people prefer to speak to someone on the phone. We will need to take action to encourage customers where only a digital service will be available."

Replies (24)

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By Homeworker
20th Oct 2023 18:22

"This summer’s closure of the Self-Assessment helpline achieved “considerable success” in shifting customers to online platforms, the boss of HMRC has told MPs."
I wonder just how successful those callers were. I tried to use HMRC's chatbot but it was useless, as it could not identify the purpose of my call, despite me trying several different options. Did they just count the number of people who accessed the chats or monitor the results of those attempts?

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Tornado
By Tornado
21st Oct 2023 16:02

We are not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post

What a pathetic answer. If they are not resourced to deal with people by the methods that many prefer or indeed have to use because HMRC digital services are so bad, then Jim's responsibility is to get the resources to deal with this.

One of his responsibilities is to help people as much as he can to get their taxes right and he should ensure that he does this in a way that people can understand, not to impose his wishes on us without consideration for others. There is a word for that type of attitude but it escapes me for the moment.

He does come across as a bit of a wimp.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By djtax
23rd Oct 2023 12:38

In fact this is enshrined in the HMRC charter which states:

"Making things easy -
We’ll provide services that are designed around what you need to do, and are accessible, easy and quick to use, minimising the cost to you."

Perhaps Mr Harra interprets this responsibility in some other way to the rest of us!

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Replying to djtax:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2023 14:21

Yes of course he does. We are "MADE" or "MANDATED" to use digital means. The "online" push has taken off, unfortunately it doesn't have the ease of use to enable people to have confidence in it. Government do this all the time. "In order to save us this, we will make the people do that". The status quo has shifted, natural progression has gone. A major crash is very likely and that time will come when some idiot says cash is no longer currency.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By Rob Swan
26th Oct 2023 17:02

If they ignore us/the public, they can congratulate themselves on the wonderful job they're doing, and let the AI (Absence of Itelligence) take the strain. Given HMRC's record with IT... should all go swimmigly. Yes?

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By agknight
23rd Oct 2023 10:16

A most bizarre approach to customer demand. Let them have what you want them to have instead. Harra should do a spell of work in hospitality or supermarket retail. That would show him how to encourage demand in your direction, rather than simply block it.

On a specific accountants note, surely the reason we phone in is because we have a specific nuanced query that is not answered by online interaction.

Back to hospitality. Harra will be the first type to resort to a condescending Trip Advisor review when his meal is 5 minutes late to the table.

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Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
23rd Oct 2023 10:30

It is so depressing to read the transcript of the Treasury Committee hearing - it just shows how arrogant and out of touch the HMRC leaders are.

I would still recommend you read it if you can spare the time as it has a few useful nuances about where this is all going.

HMRC genuinely seem to believe that their online service is wonderful, but in my view the reason for the increasing call volumes is because we cannot use the online offerings to do what we need to do.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
23rd Oct 2023 10:33

Clueless. 'Let's expand online with a satisfaction rating of less than 25%'.
If they were better at dealing with things and didn't make things so complicated, they would be fielding a lot less calls.
As an example: I called HMRC several months ago, client lost his repayment cheque. 'yes, no problem, we'll cancel that one and recredit the account'. Several months later, no change on the account so now I have to waste more time chasing up their incompetence BY PHONE JIM.
Maybe HMRC should make it easier for agents to correct HMRC's issues online directly, then they might answer that letter I sent last year which apparently is my responsibility to remind them of...

Get staff back to the office would be a good start!

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Replying to Ian McTernan CTA:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2023 14:23

Or let us take over the admin.

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By indomitable
23rd Oct 2023 10:52

I have given up complaining it's just not worth it anymore. Nothing will ever change in the civil service until government has the power to sack people and holds them accountable

This country is seriously deteriorating and it doesn't have to that's the sad thing

Our political class are just not up to the job - and that is probably 80 - 90% of them

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Replying to indomitable:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2023 14:24

They are too inexperienced to cope.

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By michaelblake
23rd Oct 2023 11:03

If HMRC want people to use the App they need a well thought out publicity campaign to advertise what the App is capable off. As a retired practitioner, and someone in their 70s I had no idea that the App existed, neither did any of many friends and acquaintances I mentioned it to. I wrote to Jim McMahon to tell him about this after reading the HMRC report saying that HMRC could operate more effectively if customers interacted with them digitally instead of using the phone. I got a stock reply from someone in Leeds

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Donald MacKenzie
By Donald MacKenzie
23rd Oct 2023 11:14

"satisfaction with digital services also dropped by nearly 5% during the summer pilot, from 29% to 24.5%"
Is there any non-government organisation that would survive on those levels of dissatisfaction?

HMRC calls are taking far too long to get through, or fail. Their voice system includes ridiculous tosh about; "we're very busy", "diverse team", their survey etc, and then cuts us off.

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By GHarr497688
23rd Oct 2023 11:48

What is said by Harra the complete truth. Chatbot " I want to cancel my MLR registration" answer "To renew your tax credit online click the link"

Email MLR address , after three months and numerous email , standard reply. " we will contact you in 15 days " 15 days later no reply.

AML visit - you are still registered for TCSP and you dont offer these services - go online to inform HMRC . Go online to find that last years ( 8 months ago) has never been approved.

Now Jim what do you say to that ?

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By Homeworker
23rd Oct 2023 12:50

I noted also in the report that more people accessed online services during the closure but that call volumes have increased since the helplines reopened. Could it be that those who attempted to resolve their queries during the summer have had to get back on the phone since then because they were unable to resolve them?

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By Tom+Cross
23rd Oct 2023 14:58

What Sir Jim, and the majority of his cohorts don't appreciate is:

Customers = Service

Jim, and the whole of the civil service wouldn't know where to begin.

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By Open all hours
23rd Oct 2023 15:10

Mr Harra is out of touch, out of order and out of his depth.
I’ve asked before - how long would he last in your organisation?
If he was good with the dog I’d give him to 10.15 here.

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By Tom+Cross
23rd Oct 2023 15:19

Let's be honest the United Kingdom has completely lost its direction. We've been led, for the last 13 years, by a series (and ever changing band)of no hopers, who have missed so many opportunities.
Whilst I have no leaning towards Sir Starmers' party, I can't think that we would be any worse off, than we are now. However,my chief concern about the leader of the Labour party; the chap is a former, high ranking, civil servant and on the basis of the current situation, that band of brothers has no gumption.

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By JamesDS
23rd Oct 2023 21:27

Is everyone else screaming "you're solving the wrong problem!", followed by some choice words.

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By Hometing
24th Oct 2023 11:22

"reduce its phone helpline volume by almost a third in order to tackle rising demand"

Oxymoron?

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All Paul Accountants in Leeds
By paulinleeds
24th Oct 2023 12:13

Sir Harra has to go. He hasn't a clue how to run HMRC.

How can you run out of time to tell people. Why not go digital by default and just email all the main stakeholders and let them tell their members!! Professional bodies will be quick to update their members

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By Agutter Accounts
24th Oct 2023 14:51

I have been an agent for over 12 years and the service has gone steadily downhill especially since the pandemic.

I am particularly irritated when you access the agent line and are advised that there is plenty of information online. I only ring the agent line when I cannot get an online answer to my query.

It is taking longer and longer to solve problems. Last week I was told one issue would not be resolved before January 9th, and the other by Xmas Day when they do not work.

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By Mike18
27th Oct 2023 12:20

It looks like HMRC have decided to reduce the queue of people with questions about their taxes, by asking them to stand closer together.

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Replying to Mike18:
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By johnjenkins
27th Oct 2023 15:32

Do Do Do, come on and do the conga.

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