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HMRC to switch hotlines to 03 numbers

29th Jan 2013
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HMRC tax advice helplines will go from using costly 0845 prefixes to cheaper 03 ones by the end of the summer, according to MPs.

Yesterday, HMRC’s chief executive Lin Homer revealed in another Public Accounts Committee (PAC) grilling that HMRC's 0845 network provider Cable & Wireless receives close to £1m profit from the calls.

While the Revenue doesn't make a cash profit from calls, it does receive extra services from the service provider in exchange for its custom. 

When ringing the helpline from a mobile, callers pay 41p a minute, with some waiting for more than 10 minutes.

Some HMRC helplines already use cheaper 03 prefixes, including the tax credit enquiry line and from April, child benefit calls.

Homer and HMRC director general of personal tax Ruth Owen appeared before the PAC in response to last year’s National Audit Office (NAO) report into HMRC customer service.

The report found delays in answering calls cost around £136m in total in 2011/12 and that HMRC only answered 74% of calls. The government auditors also reported that they had been unable to ascertain how much Cable & Wireless collected from people waiting on 0845 helplines - as HMRC was not privy to that information.

During the meeting, Hodge insisted to committee chair Margaret Hodge that HMRC had maintained a 90% answer rate in the last quarter of the year.

“We have made significant progress. The NAO report set out some very proper challenges to us.” Homer said, while agreeing they still had a long way to go to be up to standard.

The Revenue has also lowered the average waiting time on calls to five to six minutes including automated messages, something they say from ‘customer’ satisfaction reviews is acceptable.

Hodge disagreed, saying: “But that’s so frustrating. Your ambition is miles below the industry benchmark of answering 80% of calls in 20 seconds. Do you really trust your own customer checks?”

According to the NAO report, 29% of tax agents did not agree HMRC were doing a good job.

Hodge said accountants are the most “informed and intelligent customers” of the Revenue helplines and so should be listened to.

“They know what they’re talking about. Their satisfaction rates should be great. My accountant says ‘at least I get through’ which is the only good thing he can say about the system,” she said.

“If you were providing a more appropriate response, their [accountants’] satisfaction levels would be much higher.”

Labour MP Austin Mitchell jumped in with the question of the 0845 prefix cost, causing Homer to bluster in her reply.

“It’s considerably less than £1m,” she said. “I’m loath to give information in public about how much I’m prepared to pay for these services.”

“We’re entitled to know how much it is, it’s taxpayers money,” said Hodge, although the full figure hasn't yet been revealed.

Homer also reassured the PAC that HMRC will be able to deal with a high volume of calls about changes to personal tax and RTI, as she believed the “well-designed” new website took care of most of the child benefit queries. 


Replies (15)

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By taxhound
29th Jan 2013 18:54

About time too!

I always feel I am being fleeced with these numbers. 

Thanks (2)
By markfd
30th Jan 2013 00:28

Daily Mash explains...


IT’S good to keep customers on hold so that they’re extra nervous by the time they get through, according to HMRC officials.

Tax boss Lin Homer said: “When people call us, they’re already scared that they’re going to say the wrong thing and go to prison forever.

“Keeping them on hold for ages increases that tension, making them likely to blurt out something incriminating.

“Then they’re f***ed.”



Thanks (4)
By mikewhit
30th Jan 2013 07:30


Would it not saved wasted time on all sides if HMRC also brought in a Callback system such as BT has ... once the line has been ringing for a set period, you are offered a "press 1 to request callback" which then lets you hang up, and get phoned back by a real person when available.

Another time & money-saver would be if the line actually kept ringing rather than being answered by the 'Your call is important to us' robot and was only picked up by HMRC when there was someone available. This would let fancy phone systems flash you when the call was actually picked up.

Finally (as mentioned previously) an online helpdesk-style ticketing system to allow people with well-defined enquiries or status requests to progress it.

Thanks (2)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
30th Jan 2013 08:31

Credit Ken Frost for this one

The inveterate blogger has been banging on about HMRC 0845 numbers for years and highlighted the paragraph in December's NAO report that confirmed the tax department had no oversight into the amounts its telephone supplier was collecting from the helplines.

His persistence may well have filtered through to MPs like Austin Mitchell. Unfortunately, it seems that bad publicity and embarrassment are what it takes to effect meaningful change within the tax department.

Thanks (5)
By Democratus
30th Jan 2013 09:37

bad publicity and embarrassment

 "bad publicity and embarrassment ". Well it's not like they haven't had a lot of that recently and all we get is a cheaper phone call !

That being said well done Ken Frost.

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By kenfrost
30th Jan 2013 10:02

Thanks for the credit John, and the kind comment from Democratus.

Sadly it is the case with mismanaged public sector and private sector organs that the only way to push them to change for the better is to push them in this manner; inept politicians and inept "political managers" only react when a bright light is shone upon their incompetence!

I would note that Homer's statement this week to PAC about the revenue that Cable & Wireless receive is at variance with the findings in the NAO Dec report wrt HMRC not knwoing what C&W receive (ie she is either misleading PAC or HMRC were less than open with NAO):

"Her refusal to answer is "interesting", because in December 2012 I noted that the NAO report on HMRC's call handling stated that HMRC didn't have any oversight as to how much Cable & Wireless made:

"Oh and by the way, whilst my dander is up, the fact that HMRC don't know how much Cable & Wireless (the telephony provider) make out of the contract, nor does HMRC have any right to oversight, is farking disgraceful!

Page 8 para 13:

"Cable & Wireless provides HMRC’s phone service and receives a proportion of the call charges borne by the customer. HMRC has chosen not to receive a share of the revenue and does not know how much Cable & Wireless receives because it has no contractual access to this information."

Now what does this mean?

It means either the NAO report is wrong (eg HMRC had given it erroneous information), or that Homer has told a porkie to PAC yesterday.

Which is it?

Oh wait,  Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office has also remembered what was in his report in December. He suggested that HMRC had withheld information about profits on the phone lines, telling Mrs Homer that he had repeatedly asked for the data and not been given it:

“I am surprised that it has only come out today."


Methinks NAO were made fools of by HMRC."

Thanks (3)
Time for change
By Time for change
31st Jan 2013 08:39

Ken, I wonder at what stage we might

see a charge of "dishonest public servants". If it's good enough for agents (from 1 April 2013) why not the officials who NEVER (honestly) answer a straightforward question.

Thanks (1)
By taxhound
31st Jan 2013 08:50

My client says he spent 3 HOURS on hold yesterday trying to speak to someone in the business payment support unit.  Only to be told - tough, pay up or we send the boys round.  He was calling from a mobile too so I dread to think what his bill will be like.

Great Service.

Thanks (1)
By mikewhit
17th Feb 2013 11:49

Since HMRC still give out a fax number

See if a single page detailing the issue with all relevant UTRs and reference numbers and your contact details, gets anywhere !

Thanks (0)
By dwgw
01st Feb 2013 12:17

Tried number

It gave an 0161 alternative but, when I called that, the message was that I'd called from the UK and this line was only for international callers.

It's bad enough that HMRC ever went down the 0845 route.  It's even worse that they provide such an inadequate telephone response service.  For them to claim such ignorance of what their service provider partners are able to extort from the system is simply disgraceful.  A national embarrassment. 

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Replying to Ruddles:
By cwilson
01st Feb 2013 17:20

HMRC 0845 Numbers

dwgw wrote:




It gave an 0161 alternative but, when I called that, the message was that I'd called from the UK and this line was only for international callers.

It's bad enough that HMRC ever went down the 0845 route.  It's even worse that they provide such an inadequate telephone response service.  For them to claim such ignorance of what their service provider partners are able to extort from the system is simply disgraceful.  A national embarrassment. 


Dial 141 first (BT, etc.) if your number is not withheld, or whatever your service provider's system accepts. Three mobile, for example, is #31#; Vonage VOIP is *67.

This worked for me, although there is a comment on that you might get told off!

With the iPhone, and probably most mobiles, there is an option in Settings to permanently withhold your number.




Thanks (1)
Replying to Matrix:
By dwgw
04th Feb 2013 14:57

Tried that, didn't work either!

Not for me anyway, but thanks.  When I did get through (around 7:40PM on 30 Jan), I got a message more or less saying we're all busy and done for the day so try another time.  I tried again for some reason and, to my surprise, a brusque but helpful Scottish woman resolved the login problem.  [The helpfulness & resolution were the surprises, not the brusqueness.  No, wait, no offence intended Scots folk ...] 

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Replying to Ruddles:
By chatman
04th Feb 2013 15:15

SayNoto0870 usually works well for me

dwgw wrote:
It gave an 0161 alternative but, when I called that, the message was that I'd called from the UK and this line was only for international callers.

Withhold your phone number when dialling one of these numbers; that always seems to work for me. If the person answering the call asks where you are calling from, say France or any other foreign country that takes your fancy.

EDIT: Just noticed cwilson beat me to it.

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By Behindthedoor
01st Feb 2013 16:26

Other people's money
I used to use the 0161 number with no problem. Then there seemed to be a change of policy and I'd be told I'd come through on the wrong number but they did deal with me. Later still they refused to deal with me on the landline number, told me to ring the 0845 despite confirming that I'd be getting through to exactly the same call centres! Later still the automatic message was installed.

Just another example of a private business maximising its profit (which is what it is there for) by nailing down naive and unaccountable public sector officials into an unsuitable contract.....but then of course they are only spending OPM......heads should roll, but they won't.

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By The facts
19th Feb 2014 14:48

0845 calls over charged by mobile operators

The bad guys in all of this are the mobile operators overcharging for calls made to all 08 numbers.

The cost to call 0845 numbers should be at a maximum of 5p per minute but we will have to wait until early next year before mobile operators are forced to comply by Offcom.

The mobile operators are making far in excess of profits mentioned here. Now that 03 numbers are being used then call charges will leap to 9p per minute from a BT landline against the 5p per minute to 0845 (Free evenings and weekends) 01 and 02 calls are also 9p per minute now from landlines which seems to have been overlooked by everyone and even more on Virgin. So now profits will be higher than before!



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