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A correspondent from HM Revenue and Customs | AccountingWEB | HMRC customer service levels shrinks
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HMRC's customer service team shrunk by 5% in 2023

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HMRC’s customer service team numbers have fallen by 5% over the past year as the Revenue comes under increasing scrutiny for its falling service levels.

1st Feb 2024
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A Freedom of Information (FOI) request filed by accountancy firm RSM has revealed that HMRC’s customer service staff numbers decreased from 20,139 in December 2022 to 18,996 in December 2023. 

News that the tax authority has lost 1,143 customer service staff comes after agents complained about extended call-waiting times and a lack of support during self assessment tax return season, and professional bodies urged the Chancellor to invest in HMRC to sort out “unacceptably low level” of customer service. 

In response to the FOI, an HMRC spokesperson told AccountingWEB: "Online services have revolutionised how people live their lives and we want to help and encourage customers to resolve their issues as quickly and easily as possible. This is often through our digital channels, which save people having to wait on the phone or write to us.

“We’ve moved to a flexible model where our customer advisers can operate between different channels like webchat, post and calls, as this allows us to be more productive, reacting to peaks in demand and deploy staff more efficiently.

“This frees up our expert advisors to help people with urgent and more complicated queries as well as helping the small number unable to access our online services. Just putting more people on the phones isn’t sustainable or the best use of taxpayers’ money.”

'Annus horribilis' for HMRC service levels

Yesterday’s self assessment deadline capped off a turbulent period for HMRC service levels that saw the Revenue close helplines during the summer for three months, screen agent calls to the agent helpline in December and only deal with queries that were deemed a “priority”.

In another sign that HMRC is shifting away from telephone helplines towards a digital-first approach, HMRC this week announced the continuation of the agent webchat beyond 31 January to tackle less complex self assessment and PAYE queries. 

RSM's FOI request also showed staff retention rates at the Revenue becoming progressively worse over the course of 2023. In December 2022, there were 20,139 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in the customer service team with a retention rate of 99%, but by December 2023, the number of FTE staff had dropped to 18,996. 

RSM pointed to the downward trend in retention rates, adding that “perhaps worse is still to come”. 

With more taxpayers dragged into paying higher rates and more individuals paying tax for the first time due to the freezing of personal tax allowance thresholds, RSM highlighted that the demands on HMRC’s customer service team will inevitably increase as a result. 

Describing the past year as an ‘annus horribilis’ for HMRC’s customer service team, Chris Etherington, a private client partner in RSM’s Leeds office, said: “This emphasises that there is clearly a focus on HMRC trying to maximise the output and efficiency of the resources available to them.

“However, there is a tipping point where a lack of resource can be demoralising for staff being put under increasing pressure, ultimately leading to more departures," added Etherington. "With more demands being placed on fewer staff, it is not immediately clear how HMRC will find a path back to the performance levels being asked of them. 

“If HMRC is under-funded, then it feels like a false economy given it can pay its own way in driving government revenues.”

Replies (19)

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Tornado
By Tornado
01st Feb 2024 11:04

Service Team shrunk by 5%
Service Levels shrunk by 50%

.............. or so it seems.

Thanks (7)
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By Open all hours
01st Feb 2024 11:08

Why have they parted with the 1143 who were actually doing the work?

Thanks (3)
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By Hometing
01st Feb 2024 12:08

UK government tax take has (more or less) increased every year in recent decades. There is no good reason to be relentlessly cutting costs when they are effectively, the business that governs the UK.

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By JustAnotherUser
01st Feb 2024 12:22

18,996 employees!

Lets use the average wage of £33,402 , that's £634,504,392 even at 10.42 an hour for a 40 hour week that's £411,711,705
HMRC claim to employ around 66,000 people working across the UK

HMRC running costs 21/22 were £4,998,000,000
so 10% to 15% of the running costs are on support staff only, rough maths with no extra overheads etc I am sorry... it will be a lot higher I'm sure.

In the 21/22 report they claimed... "We are recruiting around 2,000 staff in 2022 to 2023, to make sure we’ve got more people available to support customers who need it...."

its all just a load of theatre for them isn't it.

Thanks (3)
Replying to JustAnotherUser:
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By ruth.julian
02nd Feb 2024 09:36

The helplines are mostly staffed by Admin Officers whose average pay is £25,414 pa for a FTE. Many earn less than that.

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By FactChecker
01st Feb 2024 17:45

"an HMRC spokesperson told AccountingWEB: “Online services have revolutionised how people live their lives and we want to help and encourage customers to resolve their issues as quickly and easily as possible. This is often through our digital channels, which save people having to wait on the phone or write to us.”

Bet the spokesperson scores highly on their in-house metrics ...
"revolutionised" sounds positive, but just think of what follows revolutions (chaos & deprivation);
"help and encourage" but which - taxpayers want the former, whilst the latter offers them nothing;
"save people having to wait" because that wait is near (and sometimes actually) infinite!

And so it continues ...
“We’ve moved to a flexible model .. this allows us to be more productive" aka it saves us money (and we're not interested in the perspective of those seeking support).

“This frees up our expert advisors” - who they? Not often those to whom calls may be 'escalated'.

Thanks (6)
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By morganedge
02nd Feb 2024 09:13

HMRC management just giving Government/Treasury what they want. This is culmination of 'Building Our Future' project responding to decades of bleating about too many civil servants, waste, too much big government. The joke is that even with HMRC staff struggling under the weight of this there will still be MP's and their enablers wanting to cut more.

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Tornado
By Tornado
02nd Feb 2024 09:35

With regard to digital help services, I am reminded of my recent telephone contact with NS&I. I wanted to ask a straightforward question and was greeted by a voice that sounded human but clearly wasn't, and the three or four second delay before replying confirmed that I was talking to AI. I answered the questions I was being asked, in a rather disjointed 'conversation', until I got to a point where I was asked the same question as one before. I told the AI that it had already asked me that question and after it thought for a few seconds, it asked if I wanted to speak to another adviser and when I said yes it put me through to a human being. The lady I spoke to was quick and efficient in dealing with my query and a delight to talk to.

Clearly this AI was intelligent enough to realise that it was going wrong in asking me the same question twice and that it needed to pass me on to someone else, but everything would have been a lot quicker & more efficient if I was able to speak to the human being in the first place.

Next time I phone NS&I, the first answer I will give (regardless of the question) is "You have asked me that question before" which should get me though to a human being pronto!

Thanks (7)
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By Karen whitehead
02nd Feb 2024 11:52

I hereby invite HMRC management team to come and spend one week in my office dealing with HMRC from this side 2 and a half years to answer a letter, 6 months to deal with a vat application, webchat that either does not have the knowledge or can't be bothered with your query, capital gains refunds that do not get repaid, money put into my client account with no client reference or name, a tax return that was amended in November which apparently will not be processed until April - with the client complaining that they thought life would be easier if they came to a professional accountant and it isn't (because of course it is never HMRC's fault) . Not to mention the amount of time that it takes to sort anything out with HMRC and that is time that the client is reluctant to pay for. The list goes on and on. Once making tax digital comes in accountants will be spending all their time replying to enquiry letters and trying to sort out the mess that will have been created by clients submitting their own figures. HMRC makes life a misery for accountants, no wonder there is a shortage.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Karen whitehead:
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By Mr J Andrews
02nd Feb 2024 14:17

I wish they would heed your invitation Karen. I assisted TaxAid for several years. An invitee from the Collector of Taxes { as it then was } also assisted this charity on secondment, during my visits. What an amazing difference - from a robotic collection machine to an understanding human being in this space of time.
Sadly under the incumbent HMRC C.E.O. it's a not a case of what the Revenue can do for you; it's become what can you do for the Revenue.
Until this rotten management is recognised for what it is, standards will continue to fall to rock bottom.

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By Ian McTernan CTA
02nd Feb 2024 12:07

Things will only start to improve when they drop this ridiculous 'customer' thing....

HMRC think online AI chatbots can answer most queries: so far they have failed to answer anything I've asked!

HMRC needs to be totally reformed, preferably with the top level staff all brought in from the profession so it would have a chance of being run properly.

Then streamline the tax system, get all the various systems talking to each other, before any more tinkering and throwing of resources into the latest thing, removing people from one area into another with little or no experience. A fine example is R&D, where HMRC threw staff in at the deep end rather than thinking ' maybe we should employ some outside expertise to review these claims'.

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By T M THOMAS
02nd Feb 2024 12:07

Just another waste of time and money. Just received a letter from HMRC informing me that the £0.20 owed for 2023 by a client cannot be collected via PAYE. 'PLEASE MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE UNDERPAYMENT TO BE PAID'. How much did that cost them to write, print,post and send out??

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All Paul Accountants in Leeds
By paulinleeds
02nd Feb 2024 12:22

"We’ve moved to a flexible model where our customer advisers can operate between different channels like webchat, post and calls, as this allows us to be more productive, reacting to peaks in demand and deploy staff more efficiently."

It's called working in the real world, being flexible and providing service.

Could you imagine any other organisation refusing to answer the phones for a month... unless it was a 'priority' and sending people away to your webiste..... where what you are ringing about cannot possibly be dealt with!

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
02nd Feb 2024 12:34

This article mirrors my comment about 'who would work at HMRC' - see here.

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/any-answers/how-have-you-found-the-suppo...

"But then... who would want to work at HMRC? This is the real reason for the lack of support - there is a lack of qualified staff and I would suggest lack of incentive to get qualified (when they do they leave for better pay and conditions our side of the fence)."

But look at this information from RSM a bit deeper.. those members of staff no longer work in the 'customer services' team - where have they gone? It doesn't actually say they've left HMRC just that they no longer work in 'customer services'. Possibly they are still at HMRC but have moved to another department because they cant stand the grief of working on the phones.

Possibly to work in the MTD dept?

Karen is right about HMRC staff needing to view our side of the work but there would be massive GDPR implications obviously etc etc.

In fact they used to ask accountants advice 'on the ground'. Ages ago when HMRC were setting up their RTI/PAYE computer pages I met with the HMRC head programmer and 2 of his assistants in a hotel coffee shop in Woking (no.. not Pizzahut!). And for a coffee and biscuit (which is all their budget would stretch to) I went through with them what I would like to be able to see my side/accountants side of the computer screen.

And they did implement my suggestions. Until an upgrade meant they were lost - more's the pity.

There is the Agents Forum to vent our anger on I suppose.

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By Mr J Andrews
02nd Feb 2024 14:02

5% , 10 % 50 % ......Does it matter. Surely 5% of nothing is nothing.

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By Silver Birch Accts
02nd Feb 2024 14:51

I believe Uncle Jim will not be in charge next year as he will be ennobled for his services to tax. He has presided over crisis after crisis and will go down as the most incompetent individual to ever head the Tax Office . When you consider the bar is pretty low, in that respect, that epitaph is dreadful.

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Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
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By Tom+Cross
02nd Feb 2024 15:40

What an out of touch twerp, Sir Harra has proved to be. Utter dereliction of duty.

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By Sheepy306
02nd Feb 2024 15:05

It drives me mad when people ask "who would want to work for HMRC" or "they're only paid £25k". I have never undertaken and would never undertake a job that I didn't know how to do, and even if I did then I'd ask a more senior person for advice and training, or I would undertake that research and training myself in my own time simply to educate myself and perform my paid job to a level that I myself deem acceptable. What happened to pride and attention to detail in ones own work? Knowingly dishing out incorrect advice with no regard as to whether it's true or not can never be acceptable and I don't quite know how people sleep with that in their mind (presumably dreaming of the cushy pension). The divide between private sector business reality and public sector mentality (at all levels) is vast.

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Replying to Sheepy306:
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By morganedge
02nd Feb 2024 22:43

It must be nice to have the financial security to choose a job on your own terms but that's not an option for many. For lowest grade staff at HMRC (the people answering the phones) they can be switched from one work area to another based on resource demands. They don't get a choice. Sometimes they will get a few days training, but (at least a couple of years ago) top level management believed that each job could be broken down into simple steps and all staff had to do was follow the guidance. I worked with a lot of people in HMRC who had "pride and attention to detail" and saw them ground down. I also came across several idiots in the private sector.

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