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Posting letters in a red post box AccountingWEB Are the postal tips from HMRC practical or patronising?
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HMRC’s postal tips fail to stamp out frustrations

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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. 

1st Dec 2023
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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. 

Replies (9)

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By Open all hours
01st Dec 2023 10:52

This will not improve until HMRC find a way of simply getting the work done. Lecturing us about postcodes and the structure of letters is papering over a few cracks and nothing more. It actually feels patronising and unnecessary.

The answer is not using digital services either. If they were any use we wouldn’t be writing in would we?

Here’s a few positive steps HMRC could take :

Engage with us properly. Treat us a a useful resource.
Let us do all the things we used to be able to do on behalf of clients.
Assume that if your ‘customer’ signs a 64-8 they believe that it covers every aspect of every tax unless stated otherwise.
Stop all work on MTD until the service gets back to a commonly agreed acceptable level.
When you write to us, use the clients name not just the VAT number.
Let us know the expected call waiting time and our place in the phone queue.
Let us have call references and full names of the person we are dealing with (doesn’t have to real, just traceable).
Admit mistakes and learn from them.
Stop being arrogant.

Thanks (9)
Replying to Open all hours:
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By FactChecker
01st Dec 2023 13:05

An interesting (and obviously unarguable) list of suggestions ... but the order should be reversed.

The arrogance at the top is the cause of the 'admit nothing' culture that recognises absolutely no opportunity to learn from their mistakes (as they don't make any)!

I've even heard (outside a meeting in 100 Parliament St) a very senior member of HMRC staff loudly berating a middle-manager along the lines of "For ****'s sake, haven't you heard of the principle espoused by insurance companies to car drivers: 'never admit any fault'? No wonder your team is such a disgrace."

Thanks (4)
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By GHarr497688
01st Dec 2023 13:01

Why should any Government department be treated any differently than a commercial business. HMRC are paid through our taxes which are some of the highest rates in the world. Surely any commercial business would lose all it's customers if a twelve month delay in dealing with correspondence occurred. A private business would look into what it's staff were doing whilst working at home and also the business admin process. HMRC seem to be blaming the Agent for being incompetent with addressing letters or using incorrect post codes etc. Any reasonable person would see common sense and apologies for the delay and say how they intent to fix it rather than patronising the Agent who has not the offender.

Thanks (3)
Ivor Windybottom
By Ivor Windybottom
01st Dec 2023 15:14

As suggested on here many times before....
The real question is when are HMRC going to allow email or a digital post portal???

It's nearly 2024 ...... not 1924.

Thanks (0)
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By Homeworker
04th Dec 2023 11:35

Client (and I) have had a letter asking us to check the client's residence status as they suggest they have information that the return may not be correct. No address or phone number shown on the letter. How are we supposed to respond? I am gearing myself up to phone them but expect a long wait - 40 minutes on the ADL last time!

Thanks (1)
Replying to Homeworker:
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By Homeworker
05th Dec 2023 11:07

I rang ADL and got through after 30 minutes. There was no record of the letter on their systems, so she could not help. I realised that the letter had come from the Wealthy & mid-sized business unit (no idea why) but there is no number available for them, so she said she would ask them to call me back. I am not holding my breath, as I have never yet had a promised call-back.
This has not been opened as a formal enquiry (yet!). I am debating whether to just leave it, as I am confident that the return was correct, but don't really want to risk them opening an enquiry? However, the only alternative is to write to them and I presume that any letter will disappear into the black hole!

Thanks (1)
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By Homeworker
04th Dec 2023 11:41

I saw this item from a Treasury Committee meeting in ATT's Tax Political Review this morning, following questions about HMRC's funding:

"Hendry was not satisfied by Hunt’s answer and suggested that the allocated resources were insufficient, particularly for HMRC's customer service functions. He pointed out HMRC's struggle to meet customer service targets. Hunt responded by assuring him that HMRC was “on track” to meet its targets and promised to provide a detailed update in due course.

Hendry pressed him further on concerns about people's ability to contact HMRC for assistance, given the reported issues. Hunt insisted that he had discussed the matter with HMRC's head, who assured him of “plans in place” to improve customer service without additional resources: “My understanding is that they will be able to meet their customer service targets with the resources they have.” "

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By Tom+Cross
04th Dec 2023 16:28

Email introduction (as Ivor Windybottom suggests) and a massive overdose of gumption could be the cure for the current impasse.
It would also be encouraging if, for once, HMRC stopped patronising, sat up and sincerely apologised for their dire performance.
Sadly that ship sailed some time ago.

Thanks (2)
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By Calculatorboy
04th Dec 2023 17:34

It's hysterical when they send out letters with no return address ..they are completely not fit for purpose ..accountants need to remember we are the lynch pins which hmrc by and large rely on ...but they do not admit it.. even to themselves

Thanks (2)