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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 Roderick Wright
19th Mar 2024 11:56

You are aiming at the wrong people. The individual ultimately responsible is the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt.
His past ministerial offices, and the tremendous lack of achievement therein, should prepare you for more stupidity.
Aim at the correct target, you might then achieve something!!

Thanks (13)
7om
By Tom 7000
19th Mar 2024 11:56

Is that the agents line too?

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Replying to Tom 7000:
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By taxinfo
19th Mar 2024 12:17

Apparently not. Yet. Same 'service'. You still have to wait about an hour.

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By Jon Stride
19th Mar 2024 11:58

Why call them helplines if they aren't able to provide help.

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By AdamJones82
19th Mar 2024 11:58

I can’t type what I think, it would be filtered too heavily

Thanks (15)
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By JohnB
19th Mar 2024 11:59

No, No, You don't understand - this is to improve customer service just the same way as Making Tax Digital will make customers' lives easier.

Thanks (19)
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By almost_a_geek
19th Mar 2024 11:59

I've lost the will to live, what kind of ridiculous decision is this?

I already spend half my life "apologising" to my clients for the absolute farce that is HMRC already. The only way to solve most problems easily is to talk to someone who "gets it" and to wait 30+ minutes in a queue in the hope of finding that person is about all we have.....

I give up, I might re-train as a plumber, I don't want to deal with these clowns any longer....

Thanks (15)
Replying to JohnB:
7om
By Tom 7000
19th Mar 2024 12:07

It will make my life easier, as I will recruit 5 people to deal with it all. So we will be very busy. I am looking forward to it, unlike the clients....

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By TB93
19th Mar 2024 12:00

With private business you vote with your money, don't like the supplier, don't use them, they'll soon change.
What options do we even have here, we've just got to take it and have a moan to our professional bodies who then sugar coat the problem and write them a letter once a year.

As far as they're concerned they have a captive audience, it's not like people are going to stop paying taxes until the service improves.

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Replying to TB93:
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By Tax Taunton
19th Mar 2024 12:09

Now, there's a thought

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Replying to Tax Taunton:
By Nick Graves
19th Mar 2024 12:18

I've had that thought for a long time now.

Taxpayer: Sorry HMRC, all are telephone lines are closed and we'll claim to lose every single letter you claim to have sent.

Replies will be dealt with on 29 February only.

You can find out more information by going to a lake and tossing yourself in.

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Replying to Nick Graves:
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By FactChecker
19th Mar 2024 23:47

Isn't that regarded as water pollution?

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By teginton
19th Mar 2024 12:01

I trust that the same proposal to close the SA helpline will extend to the PD1 and HNW lines.

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By petestar1969
19th Mar 2024 12:01

OK so "customers" will have restricted access to helplines and ask us, the accountants, instead. Is that the plan?

Oh silly me, I forgot, MTD for ITSA will solve all the problems, won't it?

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Replying to petestar1969:
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By Jimess
19th Mar 2024 13:02

That is already happening here, I have had two phone calls already this week from elderly people unable to understand what their 2025 PAYE code is about. One said they "didn't deal with the taxman as they only get little pensions". What a sad state of affairs that the elderly with even the smallest of pensions cannot have their tax matters dealt with efficiently by HMRC.

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By D Rixson
19th Mar 2024 12:02

Unbelievable! Someone needs to start a petition against this

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Replying to D Rixson:
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By OrmeGoat
19th Mar 2024 13:30

Perhaps AccountingWEB will start one. I'll sign it.

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By Nick Belton
19th Mar 2024 12:03

The inevitable consequence of this will be for clients to push routine enquiries to tax agents who will still have access to the Agent Dedicated Line. Given that current wait times on that service are growing exponentially that service is already bordering on unusable.

I think HMRC fail to realise just how much of an impact their organisation meltdown is having, not just for taxpayer but also tax agents. My last wait time on the ADL was 54 minutes, we store queries up in threes in order to reduce the disruption this causes but in almost every case the driver for our call is an HMRC error, i.e. tax refund not paid, Tax Return not captured, penalty wrongly issued, PAYE code not visible, agent status not 'live'.

And as for HMRC Authorisation of new clients, I'm on a run of 0 for 7 on online registration because personal details didn't match with their HMRC record. Onboarding is a nightmare - things were so much easier and better 15 years ago when you could post paper 64-8s and SA1s and have them processed in 2-3 weeks.

Thanks (8)
Replying to Nick Belton:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 12:33

Nick Belton wrote:
Onboarding is a nightmare - things were so much easier and better 15 years ago when you could post paper 64-8s and SA1s and have them processed in 2-3 weeks.

Interesting - are people losing the enthusiasm for technology?

The real problem is that working in HMRC is no longer a career. The good folk train up and leave for the profession, leaving HMRC to be staffed by the no-so-good folk, working from home and fitting work around walking the dog and pegging the washing out.

Thanks (6)
Replying to lionofludesch:
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By AmandaElliott
19th Mar 2024 13:00

The good folk always left for a career in the profession - I did it in the 80’s, no different now. What is different is that the staff that are left in the service aren’t given the training and tools they need to get the job done.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By AmandaElliott
19th Mar 2024 13:00

The good folk always left for a career in the profession - I did it in the 80’s, no different now. What is different is that the staff that are left in the service aren’t given the training and tools they need to get the job done.

Thanks (2)
Replying to lionofludesch:
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By AmandaElliott
19th Mar 2024 13:00

The good folk always left for a career in the profession - I did it in the 80’s, no different now. What is different is that the staff that are left in the service aren’t given the training and tools they need to get the job done.

Thanks (0)
Replying to lionofludesch:
boxfile
By spilly
19th Mar 2024 13:02

When technology works, it can be great and much speedier.
However, like Nick, I can’t get a couple of clients onboarded as the details I have don’t apparently match those that HMRC have. But they won’t give any indication of what doesn’t match, merely request that we resubmit with correct information this time. As this is the 3rd time of trying, and we’ve spent a total of over 4 hours so far waiting for the phones to be answered, we are now resorting to 64-8s.
The sheer frustration of effort and time wasted far outweighs the benefits, and unfortunately, this seems to becoming a more frequent occurrence.

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Replying to Nick Belton:
By K81
19th Mar 2024 12:58

i have exactly the same thing - lost so many paper SA1's also !

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By jackieg
19th Mar 2024 12:04

Shocking decision and clearly another government department on their knees. What is the point of a helpline on these terms!

This does nothing to encourage compliance. Maybe if HMRC received the resources it needs the correct amounts of tax could be collected increasing the pot for all. Continued short sightedness from those above. Grrr

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
19th Mar 2024 12:05

Well well well.. are we surprised? NOT.

whose stupid idea was this in the first place?

>>"The ICAEW and CIOT have strongly criticised the move".... that will do a lot of good then.

Gary Ashford is 100% correct - HMRC cant cope and their so called 'customers' are suffering especially those who are digitally excluded.

Actually.. its those who want help to pay their correct taxes who are suffering - anyone else wont care and just put whatever they like on their returns. I can only see this latter situation increasing now the so called 'helplines' are gone thereby increasing the government's so called 'tax gap'.

Where are all these supposed non productive staff going? Let me guess...the 'Making Tax Disaster' dept.

No consultation you note.

>> "However, there are no further changes to the Agent Dedicated Line at present".. doesnt matter anyway.... you can never get through without an hours wait.

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By Highsider
19th Mar 2024 12:07

Presumably HMRC will also be waiving penalties for everyone who can't get through to them?

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By Olivia Budd
19th Mar 2024 12:08

I cannot believe this! Every day we spend hours of wasted time trying to get HMRC to update records, I have a client, that I first wrote to them about in 2022 !
It is so stressful and very obviously going to cause more stress.
Unbelievable

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By jon watkin
19th Mar 2024 12:10

Not everyone is happy to deal with all their tax and financial affairs on-line or indeed is unable to for very valid reasons. As the population ages and more and more taxpayers with hitherto straightforward affairs are drawn into SA by fiscal drag, this problem can only get bigger, very quickly. A telephone service is a helpful backstop for when impersonal on-line help just doesn't cut it or for when there is a question of identity issues etc. Postal replies are a thing of the past as are a visit even to the local tax office. Quite apart from the unquantifiable stress and lost time and innocent but avoidable errors on SA returns, it's open season now for fraudsters to devise the next batch of scams to catch people out, particularly those unable to pay for a tax advisor. It's becoming yet another horrendous Civil Service mess.

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By Ben Alligin
19th Mar 2024 12:12

Thank you for your recent contact and I am sorry to hear of your concerns.

We normally aim to respond to complaints in 15 working days. We are currently handling large volumes of correspondence and we cannot always meet that target just now.

We are working hard to maintain our services and give customers the support they need. We will reply to your complaint as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience.

Admin Support

HMRC Complaints Service

Their response received yesterday to a complaint lodged in January 2024, and subsequently chased 4 times, and that is their response for us as agents. Private individuals (sorry customers) dealing directly with these clowns, now can't even ring them up. Ha ha haha. You can't make this up if you try.

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By Swimmingagainstthe Tide
19th Mar 2024 12:12

The death spiral of a failing organisation.

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By Jimess
19th Mar 2024 12:13

It's simply appalling, I just don't know what else to say.

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By Yossarian
19th Mar 2024 12:15

Remember 20+ years ago when the Inland Revenue had local offices in most larger towns where you could actually walk in and speak to someone who (usually) knew what they were talking about? How the hell have we gone from that to this in two decades?

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Replying to Yossarian:
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By moneymanager
19th Mar 2024 17:08

'how'? By the same inevitable outcome of a wrecking ball being swung at a building, the competence of all the organs of state have not deteriorated, they have been dismantled, quite deliberately, over a long time, it's an enemy within.

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By DMBAcc
19th Mar 2024 12:16

Well guys we now have "carte blanche" to quote the French. When I have a question for HMRC I will instead anwer it myself to my advantage. It will take them 2 years to catch up to my tax return and when they try to fine me I'll say "I wanted to ask the question but you weren't there so I am not paying the fine". And then we can ratchet it up to MPs etc. Does the Government not know that this excuse for an organisation is all about collecting tax NOT making it impossible for tax payers (our true title not "customers") to calculate correctly and pay? Presumably the couldn't care less attitude dominates in the Treasury like it does in every other Whitehall Gov't Dept. I wonder what would happen if we all stopped paying our taxes until sanity ruled again?

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Replying to DMBAcc:
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By petestar1969
19th Mar 2024 14:15

I'd love to stop paying but I'm on PAYE so.......

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Caroline
By accountantccole
19th Mar 2024 12:17

Have they forgotten to close the Corp Tax lines?

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Replying to accountantccole:
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By spilly
19th Mar 2024 13:05

Shhhh, don’t encourage them!

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By ColA
19th Mar 2024 12:19

I waited 45 minutes phoning the Helpline last June for a Corporation Tax query, no answer.
Appealed via a letter the same day - 9 months on still no reply.
Does anything work this decade?
The company is now in the voluntary liquidation process. Any HMRC communications will get a ‘this will be answered in December 2024’ response.

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By Tom+Cross
19th Mar 2024 12:20

"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."

Which planet do these individuals come from?

The complexity of the UK's direct taxation system requires a fully hands on, capable team of individuals to provide expertise to a population, without resorting to a set of automated online services.

Clearly, HMRC don't have access to sufficient capable, human resources and will simply switch the tap off, to suit the diversion of staff, to other areas of need.

The civil service have a strangle hold on HM Government, in many departments and it is high time that these monopolies were broken up and distanced, from self-regulation.

One only has to look at the Metropolitan Police and other public sector organisations which fall short, due to self governance. Just ask Mr Bates, what he thinks about leaving the public sector to self-manage.

There is an increasing number of UK residents who can't wait to clear off, in the hope that they can shed themselves of this type of shady practice.

The UK is now the basket case of Europe and beyond. And all down to p*** poor individuals left to their own devices.

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Replying to Tom+Cross:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 12:37

Tom+Cross wrote:

"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."

Fine if you can self serve online.

What if you can't?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By djtax
19th Mar 2024 16:57

Having heard MacDonald speak I think she genuinely believes the HMRC online services are giving taxpayers all they need to complete returns etc. Sadly she is that far removed from reality and appears to have no interest in getting out of the Westminster ivory tower bubble to find out what really goes on. They have absolutely no idea what work has to be put in by agents to correct/amend/educate taxpayers and their records so that the returns we submit on their behalf are accurate.

Thanks (1)
Replying to djtax:
Morph
By kevinringer
19th Mar 2024 17:13

HMRC also think Basis Period Reform is a simplification, and MTD. HMRC top brass are too far removed from tax and reality. They inhabit a fantasy world where they genuinely believe digital=correct. Proof; contrast how many VAT inspections do we have post-MTD VAT compared to pre-MTD VAT

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Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By noelable
19th Mar 2024 13:04

Having "cleared off" to France (still doing a number of UK tax returns, dealing with PAYE, VAT, SSAS etc). The French system is possibly even more complicated, but I can walk round to the local tax office and speak directly to someone, in France the tax authorities are obligated to help the taxpayer, they will even complete something you don't understand, the UK is falling to pieces in comparrison.

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Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By Paul FD
19th Mar 2024 13:14

@Tom+Cross You missed the Key word in Macdonald's claim which was that On-line services have transformed "our" lives. They have, HMRC can now hide behind the impenetrable digital screens where they can make such outrageous statements untroubled by the truth about the paucity of their service. The politicians are too weak and simply don't understand the way citizens lives are being impoverished by people such as Macdonald and Harra who believe their own propoganda and peddle this and other nonesense, witness MTD.

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Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
19th Mar 2024 12:21

If a proper "digital first" pathway existed - think portal for electronic messages both ways - then this would be a really good idea.

It doesn't, so this is not a good idea.

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Replying to Ivor Windybottom:
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By ColA
19th Mar 2024 12:24

Do not all Public Sector IT projects fail, require additional £ms thrown at them and barely work after ‘patching’?

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Replying to ColA:
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By Yossarian
19th Mar 2024 12:31

...sometimes with the added bonus of a few hundred users falsely convicted of theft.

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Replying to Ivor Windybottom:
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By Yossarian
19th Mar 2024 12:40

Ivor Windybottom wrote:

If a proper "digital first" pathway existed - think portal for electronic messages both ways - then this would be a really good idea.

It doesn't, so this is not a good idea.

Digital is fine if it; a) includes the necessary features, and b) works properly.

HMRC's systems satisfy neither of those requirements.

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7om
By Tom 7000
19th Mar 2024 12:22

Which is worse, HMRC or the potholes in the roads?> Vote please

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