HMRC’s postal tips fail to stamp out frustrationsby
HMRC has recently shared postal tips to help reduce the lengthy delays and growing backlog. Rather than offering relief, this advice appears to have increased the frustration among those facing waiting times of up to 12 months.
HMRC has included in issue 114 of its agent update some tips for when you must use post to correspond with the tax authority.
Despite complaints across AccountingWEB's Any Answers' forum of long Agent Dedicated Line wait times, HMRC advises against sending post and encourages the use of digital services.
However, if you find yourself needing to reach HMRC by post, here are some of the tips it offers.
- Use the right and full postcode on the envelope.
- Use letter headings so they get to the right department.
- Add the key topic to the front page so they get to the right team.
- Only include supporting documents if they are needed.
- Don’t use the word “complaint” as it will get diverted to the complaints team.
An ongoing issue
The beginning of July saw an expansion of the Agent Account Manager team to focus on processing letters that were more than 12 months old.
A survey was then conducted by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) in early August and when the postal service was questioned, it was found that 64% of respondents were having to wait 12 months to receive a response. Alongside this, the survey from the tax professional body showed that 96% of agents and taxpayers lacked confidence that services would improve.
It seems they were right as these issues continue to be a popular topic within the Any Answers community. In a recent post, Xenia123 talked about her experience with HMRC’s response time, showing that this is still a big issue that HMRC needs to deal with.
After submitting a dispute letter back in September, Xenia123 said: “It has been more than two months since and no one has even looked at the letter yet. When speaking with them on the phone they say that looking into disputes now takes 10 to 12 months.”
The community’s advice also pointed out that this is pretty standard for HMRC and that things aren’t likely to get better soon. “You sound surprised but 10 to 12 months sounds about right... And keep chasing or it will be lost in the void at HMRC,” responded AccountingWEB member FayeBK.
Practical or patronising?
When asked for their opinion on HMRC’s guidance for sending post, the Any Answers community felt that it was patronising and lacked practicality, failing to address the actual issues at hand.
“Seems to me that the problem with HMRC is that they spend more time stating patronising 'pith' when they could just get on and respond to reasonable requests,” AccountingWEB member Tom+Cross said.
This was echoed by regular commenter FactChecker, “Next they’ll be telling us to breathe out as well as in. But we’re missing the point, which isn’t HMRC trying to help us, it’s all about blame deflection – why it’s *your* fault that they can’t cope with your letters. This is their standard technique when they’re in the wrong.”
The lack of accountability HMRC has taken over the backlog of post is another cause of annoyance. Ireallyshouldknowthisbut commented, “It’s more victim blaming by HMRC, rather than dealing with the issues (poor service). They blame agents for daring to complain.”
This recurring theme of perceived blame-shifting and patronisation in HMRC’s approach continues to fuel frustration within the community, signalling a need for more proactive actions from the tax authority.
A step in the right direction?
Helen Thornley, a technical officer at the Association of Taxation Technicians, has been advocating for clearer guidance from HMRC since December 2022 and so she shared a more positive outlook on the agent update.
“I’m very pleased to see the latest update in agent update 114. We asked HMRC to explain their method of post allocation to us as we’d heard of issues, and we felt that if there was anything agents could do to help ensure post gets to the right place, then it would in turn make it easier for HMRC to help agents,” said Thornley.
She continued, “We hear mixed reports on the processing of post – with some items going through quickly, and others taking months. For very old items, it is worth remembering that HMRC has a taskforce for items of post that are over 12 months old.”
Thornley does agree that HMRC still needs to improve this process as she continues to receive complaints about delays in processing some items of post. However, it seems that the allocation issues have subsided, which Thornley concludes is a step in the right direction.