HMRC's postal delays get worse

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Accountants are reporting that HMRC is taking over 15 weeks to deal with letters. Repayment claims for tax deducted under PAYE, or under self-assessment, are taking at least six months to be paid. AccountingWEB members have been told by the HMRC call centre says that tax refund claims submitted in June 2015 won’t be processed until January 2016.

An even worse expected response time has been reported by a Tax Faculty member for refunds of SMP – a claim submitted in on 8 April 2015 hadn’t been scanned by 21 July 2015, and won’t be looked at until 8 January 2016. That’s an eight month delay!

Why is this happening?

HMRC has clear targets for dealing with post as set out on page 7 of the HMRC department improvement plan 2014. These are:

  • 80% of post is cleared within 15 working days,
  • 95% of post is turned around within 40 working days.

But the latest HMRC Business Plan indicators quarterly performance report shows those targets are begin missed by a country mile. In the year to 31 March 2015 only 70% of the post was cleared within 15 working days, and 93.9% is cleared within 40 working days. This is compares to 82.6% of post cleared within 15 days and 96.9% cleared within 40 days in 2013/14. 

Worryingly about 7% of postal replies in 2014/15 didn’t meet the HMRC quality standards – whatever they are!

In its mid-year report to Parliament in December 2014 HMRC admitted it wouldn’t meet the 80% target of clearing post in 15 days. The reason it gave for the lower performance was staff being diverted to support tax credit renewals.

That report also said: “We’ve started to introduce digital post scanning, so we can answer post more promptly and prevent delays caused by paper being moved by post between different offices.” But as Tax Faculty members report HMRC is taking three months just to scan the letters it receives.

In Agent Update (issue 49) postal delays are listed as Working Together issue WT237. The official response is “HMRC is training new recruits to customer adviser teams who will help resolve any delays. While these new recruits are trained, at this really busy time HMRC are prioritising post items where customers are due a repayment or have a payment to make.”

What can be done?

Accounting Web members Vaughan Blake1 and mbee1 suggest writing to your MP, but at the same time making a formal complaint to HMRC, which is copied to the MP. Others suggest using the agent account manager service to relieve the blockage in the tax repayment stream.

You are not alone

Sometimes it just helps to vent your frustration. You can do that below, but also add your example to the dossiers of poor service incidents being compiled by the CIOT, ICAEW Tax Faculty and the ICPA.  

About Rebecca Cave

Consulting tax editor for I also co-author several annual tax books for Bloomsbury Professional and write newsletters for other publishers.


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13th Aug 2015 14:22

This is beyond a joke now

and as well as unfair to clients significantly increases client contact time as we have to keep reassuring them that their case will be dealt with and it is not due to incompetance on our part. It is time that HMRC responses beyond the target times carry a penalty in the same way that every piece of compliance work seems to carry a threat of a penalty to us. The current crazy time limit causing problems to us is the 30 day to file a non-resident capital gains tax declaration. 30 days and we're dealing with clients often in far flung parts of the world !

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13th Aug 2015 16:00

Sounds a little nightmarish, almost Kafkaesque. 

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13th Aug 2015 17:40

Author, author

FrancoisB wrote:

Sounds a little nightmarish, almost Kafkaesque. 

Pleasing at it is to see that word used, it means a senseless or disorienting complexity, This issue is a depressingly simple one, HMRC is woefully under-resourced for dealing with correspondence in a reasonable timescale.

Perhaps Orwellian (destructive to the welfare of a free and open society) is more appropriate.

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By norstar
13th Aug 2015 16:20


That debt management don't operate at the same speed. We're finding that the DMU can routinely operate within 7 days, but can't address the underlying reason for the pursuit of tax, so when you try and write to say PAYE or SA tax departments to resolve the error, they take 3-4 months. By that time the DMU has sent a bailiff, taken all your goods and sold them.

Totally wrong.

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13th Aug 2015 21:01

not the first time HMRC called Kafkaesque

An Upper Tribunal judge made a similar observation here ( - paragraph 8):

"The FTT was erroneously lured into deciding the case on the basis that the claimant had allegedly failed to respond adequately to a letter sent to him by HMRC. This letter had been sent to him not just after the original decision had been made, but after the claimant had lodged his appeal. This is the stuff of Kafka."

I just hope HMRC don't appeal to the CoA claiming that the judge should have said: "This is the stuff of Orwell".

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14th Aug 2015 09:43


aiwalters wrote:

An Upper Tribunal judge made a similar observation here ( - paragraph 8):

"The FTT was erroneously lured into deciding the case on the basis that the claimant had allegedly failed to respond adequately to a letter sent to him by HMRC. This letter had been sent to him not just after the original decision had been made, but after the claimant had lodged his appeal. This is the stuff of Kafka."

I just hope HMRC don't appeal to the CoA claiming that the judge should have said: "This is the stuff of Orwell".

Probably one of my favourite comments on Aweb so far. Tremendous. 

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By JimH
14th Aug 2015 08:39

Add HMRC mail times to overseas residents

Add HMRC outbound mail times to overseas taxpayers to delays in their opening of appeal letters and you end up with a great deal of adviser time spent reassuring clients, and convincing HMRC overseas debt management not to remove clients from non-resident landlord scheme.

On the positive side we discovered the structured email system to overseas debt management works!  Positive response within 36 hours on suspension of action, which we'd failed to achieve on phone. (We'd included some additional details eventually found on an address HMRC had been using for client, so asked the debt team to forward to appeals team; will never know if that attempt to fast track backdoor communication to appeals team was  actually actioned)

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14th Aug 2015 09:38

The targets they're missing are bad enough.

Personally I think the target of 80% of mail cleared within three weeks is already a very low standard, the fact they're missing it by so much is appalling. I've been chasing a tax refund for a client we applied for mid January, last week they got in touch with him to advise they needed more information.


I've called so many times now that were we to bill the client for the time I've actually spent chasing this he would have no refund left to him, as it is I expect we'll take a large hit on his fee. I try to tell people in the office about this sorry tale of woe and they all just nod knowingly and grimace, every interaction with anyone in HMRC is exactly the same.

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By norstar
14th Aug 2015 18:11

Try invoicing HMRC

Where we've had failures by HMRC in this manner, I have invoiced them or applied for compensation for the client. They usually insist on your invoicing the client then recompense them - eventually.

If everyone did this, they'd soon "sharpen up".

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18th Aug 2015 04:39


I do complain to HMRC on delays of paying refunds and other serious isues . The Complaints Section are even worse at responding to my letters .I have actually complained to the Complaints Dept... Orwellian or CoCO the Clown !

I am still waiting for compensation after 15 months  so I contacted the Adjudicator who wrote to me stating that they would not look at my complaint of HMMRC taking to long as HMRC informd them that the case was not finished.........of course it isn't Adjudicator , that was the problem

THEY ARE ALL QUITE MAD .......out of control Government Department presided over by Gideon ( I am only interested in statistics NOT facts) and Hopeless Homer..

I am now considering taking out CCJs against non payment of CIS limited company refunds

Any ideas pse

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By mbee1
14th Aug 2015 10:07


Its a complete shambles the whole department.  Took me over 8 minutes last week just to change a tax code for a client to remove something that shouldn't have been there! The sooner we can get access to their systems so simple jobs like this can be done by agents the better.

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14th Aug 2015 18:31

Appeal and other issues

How can taxpayers deal with appeals if their post arrive late and the time limit for appeals is 30 days? However, for them the reply time is 'in due course' meaning 'whenever... we feel like...or never'

Maybe is time that another administrative procedure is introduced, similar to the one in Spain. If they fail to respond within the legal time, let's say 30 days, it means that the appeal has been upheld or the claim agreed. That would put some pressure on them to deal with matters.

Let's consider seriously what happens when a taxpayer fails or takes longer to reply to a letter from HMRC. They would send you a nasty one as a follow up. And not mentioning Debt Management and Banking when they say on their letters 'we'll monitor how long you take to respond to this letter'. Do they monitor themselves?

On another very important point, any taxpayer with arrears over more than a year and making partial payments will notice that HMRC leaves balances opened on earlier years so that they can continue to charge late payment fee and interest, which I consider is fraudulent. I am initiating action against HMRC for that, so if you have clients in that situation, let me know. The more cases are brought to their attention and the attention of the Public Accounts Committee, the better.

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18th Aug 2015 04:46

Balances left to rot!

I have had some success by getting staff to trawl through clients statements etc on HMRC looking for balances due.PAYE overpaid is another area wher a CR balance can sit for months.

I am so incensed by the delays in refunding CIS deductions to Limited Companies that my 5 clients want me to issue a County Court Summons .

Any one had any luck with this . Even if HMRC are royally embarrassed I would count it as success !


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15th Aug 2015 09:16

We get what we pay for
Why does this surprise any of you? Staffing levels are regularly cut in spite of the fact that the work gets more complex. Public sector staff who just do the core job is dealing with customers are marked down because they aren't in workshops, doing LEAN reviews etc. As you sow......

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By barron
17th Aug 2015 14:52

late replies
Dealing with late mother's estate , died in Nov 2013 replies to my letters have gradually increased from 4 months to 6 months!! Replies not really dealing with the matter. As overall position in terms of tax paid strictly incorrect, correct tax has been paid.
They suggest telephoning and give agent's number to contact and then say unable to deal with and write. No point in continuing.

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17th Aug 2015 15:04

re: the_Poacher

I think we're all on the same page with this, while we're all bemoaning the terrible inefficiencies of HMRC and just how much worse the service has gotten these last few years, I don't think any of us are in the dark as to the reason behind it.

Knowing the problem is that they don't have enough staff or funding doesn't change how irritating or problematic dealing with them on a day to day basis has become. Whether the underlying issue is lack of funding or incompetence the net effect on accountants and taxpayers is the same.

I don't think anyone's suggested the revenue just jolly well pull their socks up, I would imagine the consensus here is that there needs to be a serious rethink regarding the staffing levels and funding at HMRC before we're likely to see any improvement.

The government only has one revenue generating department, I can only imagine it would go a long way towards easing the financial strain on the country if they got it operating the way it ought to.

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By ghewitt
19th Aug 2015 12:48

The one I like the most

(if like it be) is you wait weeks and weeks for a reply. When it comes the jubilation is short-lived as one reads that they have 'lost' the correspondence and could we send it again. This after being told (on inquiry as to the progress) that the address we originally sent the paperwork to was wrong.  All well and good but having been originally called back by the HMRC prior to sending the stuff in the first place to be told we had been given the wrong address and the right one was thus and so just adds to the frustration.

So we are still waiting...........

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02nd Nov 2015 15:19

beyond a joke

I've been trying to register a partnership of Ltd companies for 7 weeks. Sent the application (which could ONLY be done through the post) mid-September, and had to spend a total of three hours on hold to various HMRC departments to finally get a call back today telling me they have no record of it (although it was signed for!). They weren't able to tell me that any sooner as they hadn't yet opened the post from the week I sent it! 

Now I have to begin all over again, and just hope they don't lose it this time. 

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By ghewitt
02nd Nov 2015 17:17


I had occasion to send a form with a bunch of - in this case - hard to get documents to HMRC and phone with a query, blah, blah and ask what address it should go to. She said the address - I forget which - and that was that. A few mins later the phone rang and it was the same person saying she had given me the wrong address and gave me the right one. All well and good, how efficient. NOT!

On sending the forms the the 'right' address I waited and waited weeks and then phoned to see what the progress was. 'Oh', says the chap, 'you sent it to the wrong address'. WHAT! '...but it will have been forwarded to the right address ... give it a couple of weeks'.

4 weeks later I get a letter saying that they were very sorry but either it never reached them or they have lost it. Breath in try and control rage and utter frustration; call and am told to resend the documents; on asking if it can be expedited as it was registered and lost by them -  No, say they, it has to take its turn.

Thank goodness for scanners.

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03rd Nov 2015 08:56

If only...

ghewitt wrote:

Thank goodness for scanners.

If only they would accept scanned copies of signed forms life would be a little easier!

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