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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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VAT
By Jason Croke
20th Mar 2024 09:25

HMRC have issued more detailed guidance about the VAT helpline.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vat-lines-telephony-lines-clo...

Only available for the 5 days leading up to the 7th (filing deadline).

Calling outside of these days and you will get a recorded message telling you to use digital services(?) and then will cut you off. The online services are limited, if most calls are about chasing things up, why not process things quicker? The online "how long will you wait for a reply" service isn't accurate (and tells you to call HMRC if the deadline has passed!).

But don't worry, HMRC have done a impact study and it in no way discriminates against sex or gender, they're treated just as bad as anyone else.

And HMRC have also considered the impact on those who have different racial and cultural backgrounds as well as overseas taxpayers and the solution is :-

"Customers can access the services of agents and the voluntary community sector organisations to support them to meet their tax obligations. Customers can ask friends and family to contact HMRC via digital channels which may lead to webchat and where appropriate access the Extra Support Service."

So there you go, international taxpayers can use an agent....but agents can't call HMRC either? and if not an agent, there is always volunteer organisations like Citizens Advice or some other mug to take the burden of HMRC's failings.

Thanks (1)
Morph
By kevinringer
20th Mar 2024 09:49

Question: what will all the helpline staff be doing when the helplines are closed?

Pre-Covid the helplines were open till 8pm during the week, and open every Saturday, and sometimes on Sundays leading up to the SA deadline. HMRC said that after the helpline hours were reduced, those staff that would be on the helplines to 8pm were re-deployed to dealing with post. In theory HMRC's postal backlog should have reduced, but it increased. Why did the backlogs increase when more staff were dealing with post? Could it be that less "customers" were able to get through on the phone, so they sent letters instead?

There have been several periods since Covid when various helplines have been closed (eg VAT helplines closed on Fridays, PAYE helpline closed during February) but HMRC backlogs continue to grow. In fact it appears that the more restrictions on the helplines, the more the postal backlog grows. Has HMRC released any information about the volume of post pre and post-Covid, and how the closure of helplines has affected postal volumes and backlogs?

Thanks (3)
Donald MacKenzie
By Donald MacKenzie
20th Mar 2024 10:03

HMRC call handling is hopeless. My most recent three attempts
1 Listened to nonsense messages about survey and doing things online for several minutes before told "We are busy now. not possible to take call". Score 0/1
2 Reached a human after 49 minutes. Explained issue, call handler put me on hold while reviewing the tax code notice and the call fell over at 60 minutes. Score 0/1
3 Had four items to discuss, told he could not help with two tax code notices. Could not help with client authorisation fail. Sorted client removed from SA back into SA. Score 1/4
One call handler confirmed staff are STILL "hybrid" working - ie sometimes in the office, sometimes at home. Whatever the split, it is NOT WORKING.
Overall score 1/6

Thanks (2)
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By twohaporth
20th Mar 2024 10:11

These morons will never learn - they just go on being morons.
I got fed up with it and retired.
But .. I did develop a little strategy which was mildly successful.
After the statutory waiting period of no reply to correspondence of 3 months I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with copies to the Complaints department and the original destination.
Most of the time it worked with one or the other of them. Probably with the current dreamboat at no 11 it might be slower but worth a try.
Now - if we all did that after 3 months wait what do you think would happen? Might no 11 and the complaints departments be submerged in so much paper that they might think again. I know the word 'think' and HMRC are not really compatible but surely there must be a brain in there somewhere.
Treat them as they would treat us 0r do as you would be done by as they used to say.

Thanks (5)
Replying to twohaporth:
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By Rob Swan
20th Mar 2024 11:01

"there must be a brain in there somewhere." - That's a bold and dangerous assumption and is not supported by the mountain of evidence available. :/

Thanks (0)
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By lesley.barnes
20th Mar 2024 10:50

Yet another Government Department out of control. No one seems to have learned from the Post Office scandal, the little person doesn't count. These people are answerable to no one, no matter how many select committees throw up their hands in horror.

HMRC figures reported in the press this morning of how using the chat facility was answered on average quicker than the phone lines. Times quoted were 12 mins v 27 mins and more people got through using the chat facility 67% v 65%. It's all smoke and mirrors - how are these "averages" worked out?

No one benefits except HMRC's who won't need to provide cover for staff whilst they take their summer holidays. That will be a saving to their budget.

There is a press report this morning that Jeremy Hunt has stepped in and asked HMRC to pause what they are doing.

The lunatics are truely in charge.

Thanks (1)
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By KennethMennie
20th Mar 2024 10:52

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Jeremy Hunt has told HMRC to keep the phonelines open.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2024/03/20/jeremy-hunt-hmrc-tax-off...

Thanks (1)
Replying to KennethMennie:
VAT
By Jason Croke
20th Mar 2024 12:01

KennethMennie wrote:

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Jeremy Hunt has told HMRC to keep the phonelines open.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2024/03/20/jeremy-hunt-hmrc-tax-off...

Official announcement here
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmrc-helpline-changes-halted

HMRC are not directly under the control of the govenrment/Chancellor, which is why HMRC usually reports performance to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and which is why nothing ever gets done as the PAC ask some questions, get fobbed off, don't drill down enough into the waffle responses from HMRC and rinse repeat.

What a slap in the face for Harra, finally his brainless rampage appears to be being stopped, for now.

I suspect all that will happen is that call wait times will get longer, replies to letters will take longer and Harra will blame Hunt for stopping his plans to "improve" service levels (ie, blame the government)

Thanks (0)
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By Homeworker
20th Mar 2024 17:54

This from HMRC's regular "Help and Support" emails:

"These changes do not affect the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) which will operate as normal.

Agents should use our online services such as the Self Assessment service for agents, the Income Record Viewer and our online tool that lets agents check our performance and service levels for post and online services.

Calls to the ADL should only be for queries that cannot be resolved online. We’ll continue to monitor the ADL as part of our work in encouraging customers and agents to go online. "

So when they start getting more calls from agents trying to help clients who cannot manage the online support themselves, I presume they will then decide that we are making too many calls and will restrict us even further!

Thanks (0)
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By sammerchant
26th Mar 2024 16:50

The words "backside", "find" and "both hands" spring to mind.

Thanks (0)

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