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Phone | AccountingWEB | Major shake-up for HMRC's helplines
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HMRC to make permanent cuts to helplines

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HMRC has announced that its self assessment phoneline will close between April and September every year following a trial of the move in 2023, while also making permanent cuts to the VAT and PAYE helplines.

19th Mar 2024
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UPDATE 20 March: HMRC has performed a remarkable u-turn on plans to make permanent cuts to its helplines, less than 24 hours after proposals were unveiled. Read the story here.

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HMRC has announced that its self assessment phoneline will close between April and September every year, while permanent cuts are also being made to both the PAYE and VAT helplines. The ICAEW and CIOT have strongly criticised the move.

Between April and September, self assessment customers will now be directed to self-serve through HMRC’s online services.

The move follows a similar announcement last year, when HMRC announced the closure of the VAT registration helpline, giving agents and taxpayers just five days’ warning that the service will end.

HMRC closing their self assessment helpline was trialled last year for three months from 12 June.

Now a permanent fixture, it is one of several changes being made, including:

  • between October and March, the self assessment helpline will be open to deal with priority queries, with those that can be “quickly and easily resolved online” again being directed to the online services
  • the VAT helpline will be open for five days every month ahead of the deadline for filing VAT returns – outside of this time, customers will again be directed to use HMRC’s online services
  • the PAYE helpline will no longer take calls from customers relating to refunds but will instead be directed to the online services

However, there are no further changes to the Agent Dedicated Line at present.

HMRC noted that as with the self assessment trials, the impact of these latest changes “will be monitored and reviewed”.

'Online services have transformed our lives' 

The move to online self-service for self assessment and VAT is a “vital element” of HMRC’s modernisation of the tax system, the department said, in a bid to allow “more customers to self-serve and access the information they need more quickly and easily by going online or to the HMRC app”.

“There will also always be support available for those who cannot use online services.”

Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive, added: “Online services have transformed our lives and often provide a better service for managing tax – they’re quicker, easier and always available.

“Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisers to focus support where it is most needed - helping those with complex tax queries and those who are vulnerable and need extra support.

“We must maximise every pound of taxpayers’ money. Embracing online self-service allows us to help more customers and improve our customer service levels without spending additional public money.”

Profession responds

Responding to the changes, Caroline Miskin, ICAEW senior technical manager, digital taxation, called the permanent move to answer calls to its VAT helpline on five business days a month “disappointing, as it is likely to cause high demand, long waiting times and lots of hassle for businesses”.

“While HMRC has evaluated the trial to close the self assessment helpline during the summer months, it doesn’t plan to formally review it any further, even though the impact of this move on the accuracy of returns won’t be clear for some time.

“Since restricting the self assessment helpline, HMRC has been quick to promote the fact that a record number of taxpayers met the self assessment deadline. However, more people also missed the deadline and some online services require significant improvement.”

CIOT president Gary Ashford was equally as damning in his comment on the helpline closures. 

“We are deeply dismayed that, so soon after the criticisms levelled at them by the Public Accounts Committee, and in the light of an inconclusive evaluation, HMRC have decided to make these big, permanent cuts to the help they provide to taxpayers. If last year’s announcement of the summer closure of the Self-Assessment helpline was a ‘flashing indicator’ that HMRC can’t cope, today’s announcements are a blinding light.

“HMRC’s own evaluation of both the closure of the helpline in summer 2023, and the helpline restrictions during the 2024 self-assessment peak, concluded that it is too early to say if there has been a long-term shift from phone contact to online self-service. Yet HMRC have decided to go ahead anyway."

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Harriett Baldwin called it a “great shame” that HMRC has “decided now is the time to essentially close down any avenues for people to contact them over the phone for huge parts of the year”.

“I say once again, these are well-meaning people just trying to get their taxes right.

“We've heard time and time again that every effort is being made to direct people to resolve issues online. The Committee welcomes efforts to make the tax system more efficient but HMRC has not yet demonstrated that the department or the public are ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues.

“This should not be forced upon taxpayers until there is evidence that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC's incredibly complex website.”

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Replies (210)

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By Self-Employed and Happy
19th Mar 2024 11:47

What in the flying **** is this.

Thanks (48)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By OrmeGoat
19th Mar 2024 13:29

It's the future. But worse than that, it's our future.

Thanks (9)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
19th Mar 2024 13:50

Self-Employed and Happy wrote:

What in the flying **** is this.

The date HMRC officially threw in the white towel.

Thanks (16)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By FactChecker
19th Mar 2024 19:04

I presume the remaining helpdesk staff (all 5 of them?) are now sat outside the doors of 100 Parliament Street ... wrapped in their branded HMRC sleeping-bags ... begging for cash ('you can help one member of staff to eat tonight')?

Be a shame if the Harra tripped over them on his way out and broke something.

Thanks (8)
Replying to FactChecker:
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By twohaporth
20th Mar 2024 09:52

Not if it was his neck he broke!!!!

What an absolute pig's breakfast.

But Spain does better - this from a former client overseas:-

"One of our neighbours received a letter from the tax office in Madrid last week to say that she hadn´t paid her taxes for 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 (which she hadn't despite my telling her frequently that they were due and that there was a fine of up to 10,000 euros for non payment).

Anyway, the letter gave her the opportunity to put the situation straight before any action was started against her, so I went online for her and booked her an appointment at the local office for mid day the following day.

When she turned up there a tax officer sorted out all the necessary paperwork for her, made all the returns online and she has now paid her dues for 2019, 2020 and 2021 - with 20222 pending processing."

You can't imagine that with HMRC can you - they should hang their heads in shame - but won't because they don't know what the word means.

This is very definitely a third world country as the Civil Service running it is totally and utterly incompetent.

Thanks (2)
Replying to twohaporth:
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By 0098087
20th Mar 2024 10:06

Anyone else had clients having CIS fines for late returns when there were none due and being told the CT reference hadn't been linked to the PAYE reference?

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Replying to 0098087:
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By Self-Employed and Happy
20th Mar 2024 10:08

One of mine is getting late CIS fines even though they were filed, paid on time and the online portal agrees to that fact...

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Replying to twohaporth:
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By Yossarian
20th Mar 2024 10:35

The Cyprus tax system is similar to your description of Spain's in my (admittedly limited) experience of it. It is staffed by actual humans whose objective is to sort out issues and get the correct tax paid with the minimum of fuss, not a faceless computer system churning out arbitrary penalty notices. Yet again a 'backward' country showing supposedly 'advanced' Britain how it should be done.

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By Hometing
19th Mar 2024 11:50

Shambles of an organisation, being run into the ground.

I vote we all go up there and give them what for.

Thanks (26)
Mike Grant
By Michael_R_Grant
19th Mar 2024 11:50

Pathetic from HMRC, sigh.

Thanks (25)
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By cereus77
19th Mar 2024 11:50

Outrageous behaviour from this more or less completely unregulated body. They rake in the cash across a plethora of UK taxes and now can’t even be bothered to staff an enquiry line to answer questions from hard pressed taxpayers routinely bemused by the complex body of rules they are continually changing and adding to. Disgraceful in my view.

Thanks (43)
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By Fred Hoad
19th Mar 2024 11:50

Utterly ridiculous. They should be increasing services to get the taxes system working properly, not cutting them. Another example of people knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Thanks (33)
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By hl45
19th Mar 2024 11:51

Have I got the date wrong, this is an April Fool joke surely?

Thanks (25)
Replying to hl45:
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By TB93
19th Mar 2024 12:03

Probably, not like they're organised enough to know what date it is.

Or maybe they announced this in advance because of their standard 2-week delays...

Thanks (16)
Replying to hl45:
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By Joe Alderson
20th Mar 2024 10:37

Given how often HMRC back date their post by a couple of weeks, there's a good change they back dated their April Fools joke too.

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By michael2022A
19th Mar 2024 11:52

Presumably the agent line will remain open as before?

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Replying to michael2022A:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
19th Mar 2024 11:54

There have been no changes announced to the Agent Dedicated Line. The cuts are to taxpayer telephone helplines.

Thanks (9)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By David.dgwright.co.uk
19th Mar 2024 12:07

Have you tried getting through to the Agent Dedicated Line recently? We have been trying every week since 1/2/2024 and are just told they are very busy so hang up and try again. It is getting beyond a joke now. Remember the days we would ring the local office and things would be sorted in 10 minutes?

Thanks (20)
Replying to David.dgwright.co.uk:
Morph
By kevinringer
19th Mar 2024 12:13

When the ADL was launched, not that many years ago, there were no pre-recorded messages, the phone rang straight away and would sometimes be answered after just one ring. Today we have to endure several minutes of messages and options, then queue. I had to queue for over an hour last week. HMRC want us to use digital services, but they are so slow too. I did use the webchat to change some PAYE codes in January but when I tried in February webchat told me I had to phone instead. The solution is for HMRC to give agents the tools to "self-serve" and not have to contact HMRC at all.

Thanks (17)
Replying to kevinringer:
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By djtax
19th Mar 2024 13:01

Just as well HMRC provide such excellent foolproof online services that solve all our problems instantly without needing to phone (LOL) .... at least that's the story in HMRC la la land.....if only they were to visit the real world sometimes....

Thanks (4)
Replying to David.dgwright.co.uk:
Mike Grant
By Michael_R_Grant
19th Mar 2024 12:26

They will always answer despite that message, it just takes a while.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Michael_R_Grant:
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By ianmac2509
19th Mar 2024 12:52

I'm afraid you're wrong! Any number of times the message ends with our lines a busy and the line goes dead/ hangs up

Thanks (12)
Replying to ianmac2509:
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By Homeworker
20th Mar 2024 17:46

Last time I tried I actually spoke to someone after 59 minutes and was then cut off while he was deciding if he could deal with my query!

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Replying to Michael_R_Grant:
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By jajo
19th Mar 2024 13:52

On hold for over an hour on Friday, then they cut me off, on the ADL.

I haven't worked up the resolve to try again

Thanks (1)
Replying to Michael_R_Grant:
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By Self-Employed and Happy
19th Mar 2024 14:10

Posted by somebody who presumably does't use the service?

Until today, I had been trying to speak to them about a clients self assessment amendment HMRC had made and not sent a Tax Calc letter out, over the course of two weeks, 8 calls on hold for 35 minutes plus, 8 times "beep beep beep" the call was ended.

This is happening time and again with every single tax, at least the VAT line has the politeness to say after 30 minutes "we are too busy, goodbye".

Thanks (5)
Replying to Michael_R_Grant:
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By djames
19th Mar 2024 17:45

They've answered 3 out of the 6 times I've tried to ring them on the ADL since December. The other three times the line was just cut after 45 minutes to an hour on hold. So not quite always then.

I try and get clients to ring them themselves now after giving them the references they need, so shutting down taxpayer lines is just shunting the work back to agents. I won't be telling clients the ADL is still open, I have no intention of becoming a glorified HMRC call centre. Instead I'll be telling clients that they need to complain to their MP if they can't get in touch with HMRC to resolve simple issues. In fact, I'll get a template ready for our local MPs so client's can just sign and send it.

I wish I could fast forward to 2026 to see the absolute carnage caused by the various malpractices performed by HMRC with the blessing of the clowns in charge of running the country. Thankfully I plan to be retired from practice by then, but have every sympathy for all the agents who, no doubt, will have to pick up the pieces.

Thanks (3)
Replying to djames:
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By farrcorfe
19th Mar 2024 22:23

Many sole practitioners saw the writing on the wall four years ago so. like me. gave the Revenue (and our clients alas) the soldier's farewell. I am well pleased to be shot of the HMRC and all who sail in her!

Thanks (5)
Replying to David.dgwright.co.uk:
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By johnthegood
19th Mar 2024 12:48

David.dgwright.co.uk wrote:

Have you tried getting through to the Agent Dedicated Line recently? We have been trying every week since 1/2/2024 and are just told they are very busy so hang up and try again. It is getting beyond a joke now. Remember the days we would ring the local office and things would be sorted in 10 minutes?

Not to mention the times you hang on for 45 minutes only for them to hang up!

Thanks (9)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Malcolm Storer
19th Mar 2024 12:31

You would think more cuts had also been introduced to the agent dedicated line. Recently, took me nearly an hour top get through. Makes no sense listening to constant amplified messages directly me to HMRC online services, which I are not up to the job.

Thanks (7)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Paul Crowley
19th Mar 2024 14:05

60 minute delays? They may as well shut that down to

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By FactChecker
19th Mar 2024 19:10

"There have been no changes announced to the Agent Dedicated Line" ... well the actual phrase used was "the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) will operate as normal."

So no acknowledgement that the wound needs staunching, just that it won't be exacerbated (for now). Not the words from this crew to give one confidence!

Thanks (2)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By HL86
19th Mar 2024 21:45

.... at the moment....

Thanks (1)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Joseph Louis
19th Mar 2024 22:44

I could not even get through as the message said that all the operators are busy & to call later. They are blocking the telephone line completely. I tried the Self-Employed line as well at the same time & managed to talk to someone quicker than the agent line.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Joseph Louis
19th Mar 2024 22:44

I could not even get through as the message said that all the operators are busy & to call later. They are blocking the telephone line completely. I tried the Self-Employed line as well at the same time & managed to talk to someone quicker than the agent line.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Joseph Louis:
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By Pam Moreland
20th Mar 2024 08:28

I have been keeping a log of the time I have spent hanging on for the ADL, never less than 45 minutes and then likely to be cut off. The WMBC (Wealthy Team in Belfast) is just as bad. Four calls, four messages left, no response - so have had to write. Just to change a PAYE code which cannot be done online or using the ADL. As letters seem to be taking a minimum of six months to be answered I wonder why I bothered in the first place.
If I can use the online services I will - telephoning has always been the last resort. But if you can't use the online services there has to be another way. Sadly it is the same with everything now. Use an online chat (which then says it doesn't understand the question), fill in an online form (which gets acknowledged but never dealt with), it is the modern day equivalent of the old game of 'pass the memo'.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Pam Moreland:
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By djtax
20th Mar 2024 11:10

The fundamental problem is that HMRC top brass are so out of touch that they simply do not realise that things like correcting PAYE Codes cannot be dealt with by agents online - hence A MacDonald at the recent HMRC Annual Conference harping on about all those 'unnecessary' calls overwhelming their phone 'help'lines when eg PAYE codes can and should be dealt with online....

Thanks (0)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Joseph Louis
19th Mar 2024 22:44

I could not even get through as the message said that all the operators are busy & to call later. They are blocking the telephone line completely. I tried the Self-Employed line as well at the same time & managed to talk to someone quicker than the agent line.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Joseph Louis
19th Mar 2024 22:44

I could not even get through as the message said that all the operators are busy & to call later. They are blocking the telephone line completely. I tried the Self-Employed line as well at the same time & managed to talk to someone quicker than the agent line.

Thanks (0)
Replying to michael2022A:
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By usedbyhmrc
19th Mar 2024 13:49

ADL Continues as normal - whatever normal is.

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Replying to michael2022A:
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By Software Seeker
19th Mar 2024 17:39

The quality of knowledge of the person answering the phone has also reduced dramatically. I remember in the early days that they put specially trained staff on the ADL. Now no longer seems the case (that's assuming the phone gets answered).

Thanks (2)
Replying to Software Seeker:
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By Self-Employed and Happy
20th Mar 2024 09:59

Agree completely, nowadays they "refer" you up the food chain to be contacted and 9/10 times that never happens so you go back to square one.

I've resorted to writing letters again...

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Replying to Software Seeker:
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By roger brisley
21st Mar 2024 06:38

HMRC can save a lot of salaries by down grading helpline staff and even more by not having helplines. But how much does it cost us either as agents or as taxpayers to enter the world of never answered or lost phone calls never mind the twighlight world of chatbots which are unlikely to answer the real questions that we don't know the answers to.

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Replying to roger brisley:
Morph
By kevinringer
21st Mar 2024 08:48

HMRC's "business case" will be that any saving to HMRC is a saving to HMRC even if it costs "customers" more. That was the reasoning behind SA in the first place, pushing the cost of assessment from HMRC to the "customer". I suppose HMRC could even argue that HMRC savings are in the interest of those who fund HMRC; us. But HMRC also needs to realise that tax is complex and if HMRC doesn't give "customers" the support they need to comply, "customers" won't comply. HMRC is intoxicated with digital and seems to believe that chatbots will provide the support people need. It's as if HMRC has never heard of Google. This is also why HMRC believes MTD ITSA will be a breeze; from the outset HMRC thought software would have enough intelligence to handle the digitisation of transactions whereas the reality is vastly different.

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By Matt1999
19th Mar 2024 11:52

Can someone tell them they're two weeks early for April Fools Day.

Thanks (4)
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By Tax Taunton
19th Mar 2024 11:52

As a "customer" of HM Revenue and Customs, please can I take my custom elsewhere

Thanks (37)
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By Sara Corbett
19th Mar 2024 11:53

What on earth are HMRC up to???
How are we supposed to get in touch with them if we have a problem. It takes months for them to reply to a letter, they don't use emails and now they don't use telephones.

Thanks (37)
Replying to Sara Corbett:
Morph
By kevinringer
19th Mar 2024 12:16

Sara, you ask "how are we supposed to get in touch with them if we have a problem". I respectively point out that most of the time we need to contact HMRC because it is HMRC who has the problem eg HMRC issued the wrong PAYE code, or what I'm on hold to HMRC at the moment; HMRC issued a late filing penalty when the Return was filed several days before the deadline.

Thanks (14)
Replying to kevinringer:
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By Southwestbeancounter
19th Mar 2024 14:04

Spot on!

Virtually all of the times I have to contact HMRC direct it is because they have not actioned something that was sent to them in a reasonable amount of time, or else they have made an error their end which we have to try to rectify somehow.

Thanks (5)
Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
19th Mar 2024 11:55

They're doing it because they can.

Like so much of the public sector* they found that pandemic-era working practices can be continued and there's nothing we 'customers' can do about it.

In other news, they'll probably be going on strike again soon.

*Yes, and some of the private sector too, but financial reality soon catches/caught up with them.

Thanks (14)
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By JD
19th Mar 2024 11:55

Excellent news. After spending an hour waiting on the Agents dedicated line to not be answered yesterday when a client did not get the answer they needed when they tried will improve the services HMRC provides no end.

Thanks (4)

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