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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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Replying to Tom 7000:
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By ColA
19th Mar 2024 12:24

Both unnecessarily costly & irritating

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Replying to Tom 7000:
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By klytus
19th Mar 2024 12:53

This week, it's definitely potholes.

£1,100+ for a new exhaust and catalytic converter

:(

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Replying to klytus:
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By Hometing
19th Mar 2024 13:01

Perfect opportunity to upgrade and get a nice boom

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Replying to Tom 7000:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 13:09

Tom 7000 wrote:

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

What if the councils run the tax system and HMRC fill in the potholes?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
boxfile
By spilly
19th Mar 2024 19:46

But that would involve HMRC staff having to actually do some work that can be seen by the public and tangibly measured (even right down to the person manning the stop/go boards).
And they wouldn’t be able to work from home either!

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By sammerchant
19th Mar 2024 12:25

I wish they would cease to refer to the taxpayers as "customers". Any "business" providing such a dreadful service would be bankrupt!

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Replying to sammerchant:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 12:38

sammerchant wrote:

I wish they would cease to refer to the taxpayers as "customers". Any "business" providing such a dreadful service would be bankrupt!

That's next week's announcement.

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By brumsub
19th Mar 2024 12:32

I'm afraid this is all part of 'small government', or so it is intended - to some this means no government.

Add to this the DIY culture where you have to use Apps to do many things now, like show a ticket, print a ticket, etc. Then, there is self assessment...

Those not savvy with latest technology will have to learn fast, be left behind or be inconvenienced.

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By brumsub
19th Mar 2024 12:32

Duplicate

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By brumsub
19th Mar 2024 12:32

Triplicated!

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By Jabba the Hut
19th Mar 2024 12:34

The trial worked, nobody called so they decided they don't need it!

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By Jabba the Hut
19th Mar 2024 12:34

The trial worked, nobody called so they decided they don't need it!

Thanks (6)
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By PAULLEWISFCCA
19th Mar 2024 12:37

not fit for purpose - and they just run a giant extortion racket anyway

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By wblewis
19th Mar 2024 12:38

Bad to worse!!

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By wblewis
19th Mar 2024 12:38

Bad to worse!!

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By PAULLEWISFCCA
19th Mar 2024 12:40

if all the taxes and duties were combined and people realised the real rate of tax - would the rebellion happen sooner....

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By Martin B
19th Mar 2024 12:41

What a joke. As it is the staff are WFH and taking the p*ss!

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By NStJL
19th Mar 2024 12:46

I have just had to call HMRC to get an income tax refund as the online ID verification now required to request a refund does not work. I tried all combinations of passport, drivers licence, credit check data and SA return data to get through the verification. None worked and the agent I spoke to confirmed a lot of people are unable to use this service. If HMRC accept a tax return from a known individual why do they not send a refund to an account nominated in the return? This seems like a cynical ploy to hold onto our cash and make it hard to get a repayment. It took over 50 minutes of hold and call time to get this sorted. How will this work when there is no helpline?

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By Philip_Winter
19th Mar 2024 12:51

None of the 'public services' in this country work any more. Why should HMRC be any different?

The only real problems I have with tax compliance matters arise as a result of HMRC's inadequacies and inefficiencies.

Thanks (7)
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By aidan.sergent
19th Mar 2024 12:55

What would the reaction be if all professional firms initiated a coordinated campaign of targeted non cooperation?
Any activity that provides cash to the Treasury is stopped, so no VAT Returns submitted, PAYE and RTI returns halted, Tax Returns ignored both Corporate and personal , but all refund cases, VAT Repayment cases, CIS Refunds processed as normal.
Maybe, just maybe, they would quite quickly realize the Country can be bankrupted in fairly short order without the cooperation of people who deserve a service fit for purpose.

Thanks (6)
Replying to aidan.sergent:
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By djtax
19th Mar 2024 17:01

Great idea but in practice it would just mean the HMRC computer generating millions of penalty notices and our clients all complaining to us.

Thanks (2)
Replying to aidan.sergent:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 17:17

aidan.sergent wrote:

What would the reaction be if all professional firms initiated a coordinated campaign of targeted non cooperation?

HMRC would rub its collective hands in anticipation of bumper penalty income.

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By Cathy Milligan
19th Mar 2024 12:57

God help us.

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By Husbandofstinky
19th Mar 2024 12:58

Speechless......

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By Open all hours
19th Mar 2024 12:59

They could have announced this in Birmingham last week.

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By Mr J Andrews
19th Mar 2024 13:08

''...................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...............''

You really have to read this over and over again to think - has the world gone mad ?
What was it that Paula Vennells was saying about Horizon ?

Thanks (5)
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By PennyPincher
19th Mar 2024 13:22

Broken Britain in full swing, government organisations just doing what they want with no accountability required.
This will just lead to people submitting what they think is right and hoping for the best that HMRC and there lack of checks and resources doesn't catch up with them.

Wouldn't actually mind so much if the HMRC website was of any use but it is not fit for purpose either.

Thanks (5)
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By OrmeGoat
19th Mar 2024 13:25

HMRC is imploding but nothing will be done to change things.

The politicians are only interested in reducing the cost of HMRC and have no interest in the quality of the service provided by HMRC. If they won't act, who will?

P.S. Just to add insult to injury, there was a woman on Radio 4 last week (I think she was ex- Passport Office) saying how much HMRC had improved over the last five years. This seemed to be based solely on being able to complete her tax return online and walk into her bank and pay the tax due!

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
RLI
By lionofludesch
19th Mar 2024 13:34

OrmeGoat wrote:
This seemed to be based solely on being able to complete her tax return online and walk into her bank and pay the tax due!

To be fair, it's rare that you can walk into a bank these days.

Thanks (1)
Replying to lionofludesch:
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By Philip_Winter
19th Mar 2024 14:14

You certainly can't 'walk into a bank' around here! I live in a town of a little less than 40,000 inhabitants. We now have no bank presence here at all. The nearest branch bank is more than 10 miles away.

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Replying to OrmeGoat:
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By Open all hours
19th Mar 2024 14:04

I heard that. I was so puzzled that I went back to it later and recorded what she said about how they all learn from each other and how HMRC had improved in the last 5 years.

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By Justin Bryant
19th Mar 2024 13:26

On the other hand, HMRC seem to have near limitless staff and resources to persecute 2019 LC victims.

Thanks (1)
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By Nick Belton
19th Mar 2024 13:36

Ironically, HMRC's email to me about these changes has justarrived in my Inbox some 2 hours after this story has broken and some comments later! Will their delays never end?!

Another point occurs to me and that by only opening the Self-Assessment helpines between October - March, and the VAT line for the week before the deadline, will this not encourage people to leave things to the last minute, as this will be the only period they can speak to someone for assistance?

Accountants try to train clients to deal with compliance earlier and in a more timely fashion, and yet here is HMRC messing that up for us too.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Nick Belton:
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By Richardrussell
20th Mar 2024 11:14

Yes that crossed my mind too, if you do your own tax return and the helpline isn't available between April and September, you won't even bother looking at it until October.

Thanks (1)
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By Ben Alligin
19th Mar 2024 13:37

Bring back Dame Lin - all is forgiven.

Only joking; but we thought it was bad when she was 'in charge', surely it couldn't get any worse.

Jim'll Fixit hasn't quite worked out as well as we might have hoped!!!

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By monksview
19th Mar 2024 13:50

Of course its transformed their lives. Enabled them to move their helplines to a skeleton staff so they can (not) get on with the actual work. What the hell do they do with their time?

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By Paul Morton
19th Mar 2024 13:56

I understand the outrage this has caused but for me it's a very sad day. The organisation I worked for, for over 40 years, is just imploding. When I joined the Inland Revenue in 1977 I was responsible for all of the tax affairs of self employed individuals on the Isle of Wight beginning with the surnames of A to F. I think back to the customer service I provided to these individuals as I knew all of their tax affairs' inside out and they knew me by name. As an Inspector I was always available to go to the 'counter' and discuss problems. Even when undertaking enquiry work, whilst people may not have liked what I did, I provided customer service. How on earth have we got to this? I will be getting out of this country later in the year and I can't wait. We're turning into a third world country who have forgotten the basic premise of looking after each other, empathy, compassion, it's all about money. Pull the ladder up Jack, we're all right!

Thanks (10)
Replying to Paul Morton:
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By Sue Murby
19th Mar 2024 16:53

Back in the 80s I worked for a top 3 firm in a department dealing solely with the affairs of the partnership. We had access to an inspector whenever needed. It made life easier for us and them.

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By Paul Crowley
19th Mar 2024 13:57

The government has let this get out of control.
still, at least clients and potential clients cannot [***] up the system anymore

Thanks (1)
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By Paul Crowley
19th Mar 2024 13:59

April 1st posting?
Good one, but nobody will believe it. An arm of government no longer accepting telephone calls? Get real.

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By 0098087
19th Mar 2024 14:05

My wife who does the payroll said WTF!!

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By 0098087
19th Mar 2024 14:05

My wife who does the payroll said WTF!!

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By Southwestbeancounter
19th Mar 2024 14:14

When I googled for an article about the HMRC 'helpline' debacle to share to my friends (as the AW articles are great but many folk aren't registered so can't seem to read them) it came up with this! How appropriate!

Help is available
Speak with someone today
Samaritans
Hours: Available 24 hours Learn more
116 123
Call Official website
SMS: Text SHOUT to 85258

Thanks (3)
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By MalcomB
19th Mar 2024 14:16

It's about time that we became proactive against the HMRC cuts to their service.

The HMRC must be made to keep the helpline open. I have started a petition on Gov.UK and would be grateful if you could support it. It will not be published until five have signed it.

Click this link to sign the petition:
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/659220/sponsors/new?token=7Kqpd...

My petition:
Force the HMRC to retain the self-assessment telephone helpline
The Government should provide sufficient funding to the HMRC to enable it to keep the self-assessment telephone helpline open so that everyone can access help on their tax affairs when they need it.

Thanks (8)
Replying to MalcomB:
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By Paul Crowley
19th Mar 2024 15:40

20 supporters so far

Now in hiatus whilst they decide to approve it

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Replying to MalcomB:
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By norstar
19th Mar 2024 17:31

I'll circulate this to my clients. This needs to be stopped

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By Ian McTernan CTA
19th Mar 2024 14:22

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

Delusional. Cleaqrly never worked in the real world.

Then again, she thinks taxpayers are 'customers'. Would anyone use HMRC if they had a choice?

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By Tom+Cross
19th Mar 2024 14:39

Reeta Chakrabarti was closing the BBC lunchtime news, when she announced this HMRC announcement.
Reeta said “breaking news”. All
I could think was “breaking wind”!

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By Red1960
19th Mar 2024 14:40

Jim'll Fix It as only he knows how.

Jim Harra Chief Executive
HMRC
Room 2/75
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

Have fun everybody... but keep it real!

Can you believe that poor old Jim only has one room to deal with all of this stuff?

He's going to need a bigger office!

Thanks (1)
Replying to Red1960:
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By djtax
19th Mar 2024 17:07

As I know from personal experience letters addressed to JH are dealt with by juniors in his office - I doubt he ever even sees or reads them.

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