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HMRC to close self assessment helpline for three months

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HMRC is to close the self assessment helpline for three months from 12 June, with taxpayers having to rely on digital services to answer their queries instead.  

8th Jun 2023
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HMRC has announced that it will be trialling a seasonal model for the self assessment helpline, where queries will be redirected to digital services – such as online guidance, digital assistant and webchat – from 12 June until 4 September. 

The sudden closure decision was taken with no prior consultation and gives taxpayers only four days’ warning. 

The tax department explained that the “seasonal model” will free up 350 full-time equivalent HMRC advisers to answer calls and taxpayer correspondence in other areas, and this will enable the advisers to answer 6,600 calls each day. 

HMRC justified switching off the self assessment helpline for three months, reasoning that it receives fewer calls over the summer, with there being 50% more calls between January to April compared with June to August.

The decision to close the helpline comes shortly after HMRC encouraged taxpayers to file early and “spend more time building your business”, highlighting that 77,500 taxpayers had already submitted their tax return for the 2022 to 2023 tax year on 6 April 2023.

According to stats from the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), nearly 1.2m people called the helpline during the same period of this year's three month closure in 2022, with over 900,000 people staying on to try to speak to someone.

Criticism from across the profession

The decision has met with widespread criticism from across the accountancy and tax profession. Susan Ball, the past president of the CIOT said, “This means it will be closed when taxpayers are due to make payments by 31 July.” She added, “It does just go to show HMRC needs more resources.”

The CIOT's Gary Ashford, who used his inagugral speech as president to call on ministers to resource HMRC properly, said: "By shutting down one of the best used helplines for the summer, HMRC is putting up a further barrier to people being able to easily get their tax right, eroding a fundamental principle of HMRC’s own Charter.

“This is another clear indicator that HMRC can’t cope with everything it is being tasked to do, and simply cannot meet the demands of a growing and ever more complex tax system."

Seb Maley, CEO of Qdos, said the decision highlights the “chaos at the tax office”. He added, “HMRC can dress it up however it wants, but closing the phone lines for self-employed taxpayers is only going to result in problems.”

RSM’s Chris Etherington called the news short-sighted and said it could lead to further delays on the helpline as the 31 January deadline approaches.

“If taxpayers can’t get answers to their queries over the summer months, they may push these back until later in the year and pile more pressure onto the phone lines then. A bleak winter could lie in wait for taxpayers with even longer waiting times.”

Meanwhile, Victoria Todd from the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, said the sudden closure decision was “ill thought out” and will have “a disproportionate effect on low-income taxpayers who cannot afford professional advice”.

She added that the decision may drive low-income taxpayers to the voluntary sector for help, with these bodies already underfunded. Alternatively they will decide not to seek help or will instead turn to unofficial sources like forums and risk getting inaccurate advice. “This would lead to errors, non-compliance and more problems for HMRC and taxpayers alike further down the line.” 

Service levels

The need for this pilot, and the decision to redirect staff, underlines the concerns professional bodies raised before the Spring Budget that the government needs to invest in HMRC service levels. 

In a letter to the Chancellor, the accountancy, tax, bookkeeping and payroll bodies urged Jeremy Hunt to treat investment in HMRC as a top priority because “customer service levels delivered by HMRC have fallen to an unacceptably low level”.

Two months after the Budget, the professional bodies received a response from Victoria Atkins, the financial secretary to the Treasury, who passed on HMRC’s apologies for the delays – blaming a high volume of repayment claims, IT issues and resources diverted to Ukraine visa processing – and pointed to the investment HMRC is making in digital services between now and 2030. 

The Association of Accounting Technicians’ Adam Harper said today’s announcement highlights the challenge HMRC faces in balancing competing priorities with a constrained budget. “Ultimately, the government must address the root problem that more investment is needed,” he added.  

Closing helplines to reserve capacity

This is the latest example of HMRC closing a service, or temporarily stripping it back and relying on online services instead, as the tax department attempts to get a grip on its falling services levels. 

In May, HMRC give taxpayers and agents five days’ warning that the VAT registration helpline would permanently close, with those affected directed to digital services instead.  

HMRC also restricted the Agent Dedicated Line to just self assessment late filing penalties and PAYE coding notice for three months from April to June in order to get on top of capacity issues, and again, agents were pushed towards using digital services. 

HMRC’s push towards becoming a “digital by default” organisation saw the tax department trial an automated SMS system to divert routine queries from taxpayers during January to shorten telephone wait times. 

HMRC’s response

Explaining why it decided to trial closing the helpline, HMRC’s deputy CEO and second permanent secretary Angela MacDonald said: “We continually review our services to see how they can best serve the public and we are taking steps to improve them.

“A seasonal SA helpline will make more of our expert advisers available where they are most needed during the summer months.

“Our online services, including the HMRC app, are quick and easy to use and have been significantly improved. I urge customers to explore these fully before deciding to wait to speak to us on the phone.”

Replies (95)

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By Tom+Cross
08th Jun 2023 15:50

When will the Government hold Jim Harra to account?

"First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive

HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive chairs the Executive Committee, and is responsible for delivering the department’s strategy, business objectives and performance.

They are the Principal Accounting Officer and are accountable to Parliament for the department’s expenditure and performance."

Thanks (24)
Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By Chessaccountant
08th Jun 2023 16:19

Jim Harra has to be sacked for this. This is unacceptable and he is the man ultimately responsible.

HMRC is not fit for purpose as it is and they do this with only 4 days notice?? What do they think this is going to achieve??

Of course, we all know they'll say it was a resounding success because they received no calls from agents. Well of course you didn't.

I'm thinking of launching a petition to demand Jim Harra's removal or resignation.

Thanks (35)
Replying to Chessaccountant:
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By Jabba the Hut
09th Jun 2023 09:40

Thing is, if he goes he might get a job in charge a beer producing firm then we're all [***]!

Thanks (4)
Replying to Chessaccountant:
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By Jabba the Hut
09th Jun 2023 09:40

Thing is, if he goes he might get a job in charge a beer producing firm then we're all [***]!

Thanks (4)
Replying to Jabba the Hut:
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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2023 09:54

That definitely deserves two thanks.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Chessaccountant:
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By sodge2000
09th Jun 2023 09:55

I am in the middle of writing to Jim Harra with a list of issues I have recently had with HMRC. It includes a fine sent to a client for not filing his accounts for the period 1-30 April. His Year end is 31st March and the accounts for that period were already filed. When I called the person I spoke to said they had his year end as April but she could see that was the wrong date and would correct it and cancel the fine!!!
How could they have the wrong date as his year end date has been March since the company was set up 10 years ago?

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Replying to Chessaccountant:
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By sammerchant
09th Jun 2023 17:02

HMRC have done this sort of thing for so long and each time that they have got away with it, they go one step further. The MPs from all parties are too timid to say anything to them. Jeremy Hunt is quite useless.

The least they can do in mitigation is suspend ALL penalties and interest for the duration of their shutdown.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By Hugo Fair
08th Jun 2023 17:29

You should give him some credit ...

Some govt depts lose things and some just lie, whilst others corrupt the data and file it in obscure parts of broken systems - all the time making it nearly impossible to talk to anyone let alone to the same person throughout any resolution process.
But ONLY with HMRC do you encounter all this wrapped into a single homogenous failing state, presided over by what appears to be a lobotomised amoeba who's happy to float in the detritus.

Thanks (24)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Jun 2023 11:51

"Some govt depts lose things and some just lie, whilst others corrupt the data and file it in obscure parts of broken systems - all the time making it nearly impossible to talk to anyone let alone to the same person throughout any resolution process."

Sounds a bit like HMRC recording a successful receipt of an online Tax Return submission but upon enquiry, it seems that they are unable to capture the data and require a paper Return to be submitted. I would have thought their very expensive digital system would have been able to flag this up at the time instead of waiting until I enquire about it.

I wonder how unrepresented taxpayers are going to be able to deal with this sort of situation.

Thanks (2)
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By Rammstein1
08th Jun 2023 16:05

Just when you think HMRC's standards have hit an all time low they find a way to make them even worse.

Thanks (19)
Replying to Rammstein1:
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By Chessaccountant
08th Jun 2023 16:20

And it's only going to get worse for as long It's-the-Agents'-Fault-Big-Jim is in charge.

Thanks (3)
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By Tom+Cross
08th Jun 2023 16:30

Possibly, one of the only organisations, where email is least used, between HMRC and client representation, 52 years after its introduction!

Now that, says everything about HMRC. Ed in the clouds!

Thanks (3)
Tornado
By Tornado
08th Jun 2023 16:33

I was going to say a lot about this, but on reflection, the situation is becoming so bizarre that all I can really do is have a quiet chuckle at the absurdity of it all and sit back and watch the demise of HMRC unfold in a most disturbing but entertaining way over the next few months. (Who does not like some dark humour every now and then).

(Did I tell you about the Tax Return that was successfully filed on the 30th January 2023 but was not processed. I enquired by letter the reason for this on the 12th April 2023 (not wanting to spend hours waiting on a helpline to speak to someone) and received a reply today telling me that HMRC are unable to capture the data and I am to get my Client to submit a paper Return. They have assured me, however, that the system will not penalise my client for submitting a late paper Return. So that is alright then).

HMRC = Laughing Stock

Thanks (18)
Replying to Tornado:
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By Chessaccountant
08th Jun 2023 16:40

I just recently had something similar.

HMRC called to say that they had received the return but couldn't access the data because the file was corrupted. Then they sent the client a letter to say that their return wasn't submitted. Fortunately I had forewarned the client.

I sent the tax return by email and am awaiting a response. The last time I sent them an email, they replied by email asking me to consent to communication by email. Well, obviously, because if I wasn't I wouldn't have sent it in the first place. So this time I told them in the email that they should take my response to their letter as consent to correspond by email to save them time.

The Oxford English Dictionary has just been updated: look up the word "joke" and the first definition you'll find is "HMRC."

There are some very good and helpful people within HMRC, but there just aren't enough of them and they're operating blindfolded and with both arms tied behind their backs.

Thanks (13)
Replying to Tornado:
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By Ajtms
09th Jun 2023 09:41

I filed a client's 2021/2022 SA100 electronically on 6 July 2022 and am still waiting for it to be processed despite me making a written complain and them telephoning me to say that they are looking into it. HMRC have it marked as received, but totally blank which naturally it wasn't. I will be claiming compensation for this when finally resolved as I usually have to do in cases of gross error or incompetence.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Ajtms:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Jun 2023 10:34

When my client does send me the paper Return to submit, I am expecting to wait months until HMRC process it and I am also fully expecting them to fine my client for late submission of a paper Tax Return (despite what they say ... you cannot trust HMRC these days). Ironically, my client has already paid the tax due on the Return months ago and it is showing on his account as an amount that can be refunded to him.

I am already preparing the paperwork to appeal the expected (incorrect) fines, interest and god knows what else, but I also expect there is no one at HMRC to deal with such appeals or complaints anyway.

They are in a downward spiral where each time they get it wrong, ten time more problems arise.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Tornado:
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By Ajtms
09th Jun 2023 11:42

Complaints go to BX9 1AB and they have just got around to dealing with complaints that I made last September. They have agreed they have failed and in one case agreed that they acted unlawfully and will be paying my fees via the taxpayer on both my September complaints. I have to invoice the client for the additional work caused and then HMRC send a cheque to the client to cover in recognition that the client is out of pocket due to HMRC's incompetence. I always proceed with complaints in this way as it is not fair for either my client or myself to suffer the financial loss or the loss of time.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Tornado:
By mydoghasfleas
09th Jun 2023 10:30

You filed the return. You received an acknowledgement. If HMRC now want a paper copy, it should be at HMRC's cost. Your client complied with the law and should not be put to additional cost.

Thanks (5)
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By DonDan
08th Jun 2023 16:40

HMRC are an absolute fu**ing disgrace

Thanks (32)
Replying to DonDan:
Tornado
By Tornado
08th Jun 2023 16:54

I could not have said it better myself :-)

Thanks (5)
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By We're_all_mad_here
08th Jun 2023 16:49

Whilst this is a disgrace I have just spoken to an advisor who has advised that the agent dedicated line will not be closed for the next 3 months. Not sure how true this is!

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Replying to We're_all_mad_here:
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By AdamJones82
08th Jun 2023 17:02

Now, now, you're thinking a person on the helpline knows what they are talking about. Look in the mirror and slap yourself!

Thanks (12)
Replying to We're_all_mad_here:
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By usedbyhmrc
08th Jun 2023 20:55

It's true, but the ADL Helpline will only be open on days that contain the letters "jkqz", as agents only phone after they have had a cup of tea and caught up on the office gossip, it won't open until 10 am, it will close for lunch between 12:00 and 14:00, and close at 16:00 so agents can go home early.

So the chap/lass on the helpline was strictly telling the truth.

Thanks (1)
Replying to We're_all_mad_here:
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By possep
09th Jun 2023 07:24

Its not the ADL, its the public helpline.

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By AdamJones82
08th Jun 2023 17:01

These are the digital services that didn't process my client's tax return in January, repaid her the payment she made on 30th January (which has since repaid BACK to them) then issued a late payment penalty today after processing the tax return
What a shower of sh*t

Thanks (9)
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By More unearned luck
08th Jun 2023 19:30

According to the Tax Fac this refers to the number that the general public call and not to the ADL

https://www.icaew.com/insights/tax-news/2023/jun-2023/hmrc-closes-sa-hel...

Thanks (1)
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By Philysis
08th Jun 2023 20:07

When I asked why….

“We continually review our services to see how they can best serve the public and we are taking steps to improve them”

Yet again a robotic legal answer that fails to answer the question… how patronising is the public sector to U.K. citizens , this calls for a Jeremy paxman to take these people to task

Thanks (6)
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By Gone Sailing
08th Jun 2023 20:49

@ We're_all_mad_here and @ More unearned luck
are right, the Self Assessment line will be for agents only for 3 months, whoopee.

https://www.icaew.com/insights/tax-news/2023/jun-2023/hmrc-closes-sa-hel...

10 years ago at the HMRC / Agents consultancy, I said that HMRC should encourage the use of agents to relieve them of their workload.

Will our phones start ringing?

Thanks (1)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
09th Jun 2023 05:27

If HMRC was not run by ignorant people, it would have announced instead the termination of the pointless MTD project, thus freeing up all the staff it needs to make a start on doing its job properly.

Thanks (22)
Caroline
By accountantccole
09th Jun 2023 08:01

FFS - what is the point of HMRC???
On a brighter note, emailed the French tax office, yesterday, same day reply with the information we needed. We might be made to pay higher tax/social charges here to pay for the public sector but it does generally mean there are bodies in offices to deal with questions!!

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Replying to accountantccole:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Jun 2023 09:00

It is not the lack of funds that is the problem. If the £3,000 million wasted on the MTD project had been more wisely spent on improving the existing system, I think we too would have a much, much better service from our Tax Administration Authority. Most of the current problems are due to the incredibly poor systems that HMRC operate in comparison to the very good systems that existed in the past where you could phone the helpline and the person at the other end not only answered quickly but could often there and then fix a problem while you waited.

I think the obsession with MTD has been the downfall of HMRC, and at this stage there seems to be no way out unless the Government start to listen to us. We are the professionals and know what we are talking about from years of practical experience. The term Professional means that we are trained and qualified for the work we do and we do NOT require to be told how to do that work. Government interference has given us a Tax Code of over 24,000 pages which is now so complex that no one could possible know how it all works.

A new beginning is required and the Government must know this by now.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By flightdeck
09th Jun 2023 10:09

A fresh start is badly needed, it's not even lipstick on the pig now.

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Replying to accountantccole:
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By Tom+Cross
09th Jun 2023 10:10

My brother and sister-in-law live in France, close to Montmorillon. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to visit, in late Summer, early Autumn.
What a fabulous country and if you're polite and respectful to the locals, they treat you well.
Our best holidays have been in France and I am envious of your surroundings.

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Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By johnjenkins
09th Jun 2023 10:39

Most countries are fabulous when you're on holiday. Many that go to Spain and France return. Portugal and Cyprus seem to be the countries that most stay in.
Apart from HMRC this is a faberfull place to live. I've been to most places in the world and can honestly say that I'm happy living here, even with two parties who would have trouble forming a competent government between them.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Tom+Cross
09th Jun 2023 20:54

Regretfully, very regretfully, the United Kingdom is a complete basket case, led by the most incompetent set of people. It really doesn’t matter which colour of politicians lead us, they are all, basically, incompetent. Yes, the; landscape, the people, the concept is one to behold but, the leadership/steering the ship is completely adrift.

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By TB93
09th Jun 2023 09:08

This has to be a joke surely???

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Replying to TB93:
By mydoghasfleas
09th Jun 2023 10:32

I checked to see if the announcement was dated 1 April. It's not.

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Replying to mydoghasfleas:
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By Caerlyr
12th Jun 2023 12:56

That would have been far too soon for HMRC to respond it was only 10 weeks ago

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By Crouchy
09th Jun 2023 09:22

just more evidence that HMRC is broken beyond repair

it cant be long before the system crashs completely

whats the point of moving staff to clear a backlog elsewhere only to create a different backlog in SA, who comes up with this ill thought out guff

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By sodge2000
09th Jun 2023 09:23

After my recent dealings with HMRC I would say it is not fit for purpose. It needs a complete investigation into workings. I and probably a lot of other VAT users received a letter dated May to inform me of changes to the VAT penalty system that came into effect on January 1st.

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By Dolomite
09th Jun 2023 09:34

The clowns do not answer the phone now, so little difference then

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Replying to Dolomite:
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By OrmeGoat
09th Jun 2023 10:51

Many years ago, while speaking to HMRC, I asked the question "Which clown came up with idea?" and was told that I should respect HMRC staff but was assured, however, that HMRC did not employ any clowns!

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By JS23
09th Jun 2023 09:38

In normal circumstances the phones don't get answered by HMRC, so there is nothing new, now they are just makeing it officical.

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By Southwestbeancounter
09th Jun 2023 09:41

This would have been a perfect article if it had been saved for April 1st!!!

This will mean that clients will now be phoning us more for mundane things which previously they would have sorted themselves.

So much for encouraging early filing!

This needs to hit the national press!!

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Replying to Southwestbeancounter:
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By Richardrussell
09th Jun 2023 10:54

So much for encouraging early filing!

Exactly! Absolute farce

Thanks (1)
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By miltonbank
09th Jun 2023 09:43

Could this be a trial run for when they eventually start MTD?? That when it starts they close both the Agents Dedicated Helpline and the Public's helpline at the same time, and try and hide from the mess that they create?

They refer to us as "Clients", and clients tend to go elsewhere when they receive a poor/no service. If only we had a choice...

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Replying to miltonbank:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Jun 2023 10:40

Could this be a trial run for when they eventually start MTD?

MTD is already dead. Don't worry about it ever starting.

Thanks (3)
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By Ammie
09th Jun 2023 09:46

I am a very experienced accountant and even I sometimes struggle to find specific matter on the vast HMRC website, let alone trouble shooting registration and notification rejections, so how is a member of the public supposed to survive.

There are far too many barriers and hindrances to efficient communication with HMRC, but they are totally dismissive of our issues because they have statutory privilege to rely on.

This will lead to more pressure on them to reassess MTD and how sensibly it should be introduced.

At the moment HMRC are miles from where they ought to be.

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Replying to Ammie:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Jun 2023 10:46

let alone trouble shooting registration and notification rejections

I an my client have now twice gone through the process of applying to act for his company, him receiving a letter from HMRC , him giving me the code to enter online, the code accepted and then ................ nothing. This is a 'Digital' Service that clearly does not work and I am reluctant to spend hours on the phone trying to find out why this very basic procedure is not working.

Hello HMRC, is there anybody there?

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