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How HMRC handles complaints

5th Apr 2018
Business Consultant Hudson Business Advice
Columnist
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Retro Grunge Complaints Dept Door
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Della Hudson reports back on what she learned from an HMRC webinar on its complaints handling strategy, which can be summarised as: listen, learn and act.

Annually HMRC deals with approximately 45 million individuals and 5.4 million businesses via 50 million phone calls, 12 million letters and 1 million iforms. It handles around 78,000 complaints per year.

HMRC’s complaints policy is to:

  • Put things right and apologise
  • Learn from the complaints
  • Consider a claim for financial redress.

Put things right and apologise

The idea is for frontline staff to resolve issues ASAP without the need for a formal complaint.

Although complaints can be made a number of ways there is a new online iform which can be completed by the “customer” by signing in through their government gateway. There is currently no iform that can be completed by an agent on behalf of their client although 58% of the 200+ agents on the webinar prioritised this as “very important”.

The other ways of instigating a complaint, such as by phone or post are listed here.

First tier

The first tier of the complaints procedure starts by contacting the complainant by their preferred method in order to establish:

  • what went wrong
  • the impact on the “customer” and their tax, tax credits and other affairs
  • what resolution is desired

HMRC’s target response times are:

  • five working days for a phone call (80% of complaints are resolved from a callback)
  • seven working days with an email response
  • 15 working days response time to a letter

Complaint handlers

The aim is for a “once and done” approach, ie the complaint is dealt with by the first point of contact whenever possible. HMRC has empowered complaint handlers to make more decisions for themselves and to take ownership, wherever possible, without needing to refer to the policy unit. If the complaint does need to be referred, then iform complaints can be tracked through the taxpayer’s personal tax account.

Complaint handlers should be knowledgeable, empathetic and pragmatic (not dogmatic). As those individuals become more confident in resolving issues for themselves this should improve, but it should never become a free for all.

As a result of this follow up and investigation, the complaint may be fully upheld, partially upheld, or HMRC may disagree.

Appeals

If you are amongst the 7% of taxpayers unhappy with the response from HMRC, you can appeal to the second tier stage of the complaints handling where a second person will take a fresh look at your complaint.

Some 98.5% of complaints are resolved internally through this two-tier process but, if you are still unhappy, you can ask to be referred to the external adjudicator. Statistics show that 41% of the complaints which reach the adjudicator are upheld in full or in part.

Learning from the complaints

As well as resolving the individual complaint HMRC claims to be actively learning from its mistakes. While some tax affairs are complex HMRC will still seek to identify systemic problems. There is a national database of complaints which can be interrogated to push for change within HMRC.

Where problems do arise, those issues can sometimes be prevented in future by updating HMRC guidance or changing the IT systems. The complaints teams are also involved in policy and business planning processes so they can influence new policy, processes and communications.

Financial redress

Although HMRC’s first aim is to put things right and apologise, it may be appropriate for them to make a financial payment to:

  • reimburse costs which are reasonably incurred as a direct result of their actions, or
  • compensate for worry and distress that HMRC’s mistakes and delays have caused.

Although delays were mentioned a few times during the webinar, the point was made that a delay may not be unreasonable just because it exceeds HMRC’s own published service standards.

Conclusion

Overall I found the webinar very positive and look forward to things improving. However, with 77% of attendees saying that the HMRC complaints process is the same or worse than other large public organisations, there is plenty of scope for improvement.

Replies (8)

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By ohgoodgodno
06th Apr 2018 10:16

HMRC's handling of complaints is shambolic, unlike the helpline numbers, calls to the complaints team aren't recorded or monitored and there seems to be no accountability of the staff in these departments.

its also clear that a lot of them don't understand the reason for the complaint or have such a blinkered view of HMRC's position that they never get dealt with properly

it comes to something when we've had to complain about the people handling our complaints!!

we seem to be making complaints on a daily basis, such is the standard at HMRC at the moment

Thanks (5)
By SteLacca
07th Apr 2018 14:37

Over the past three years I've taken two complaints right to the top. Both were caused by correspondence being ignored over extended periods of time.

The first was a very technical matter regarding a trust, and eventually I emailed Lin Homer (as it was then). The next day I received a conference call from a specialist trust inspector and an HMRC solicitor. The whole matter was resolved within two weeks.

The second was much more recent, and caused by escalating penalties over a period of two years in respect of CIS and RTI submissions that weren't required, and which HMRC had been notified weren't required every time that they sent a fresh notice. On this occasion, I emailed Jon Thompson, and received an acknowledgement a week later, and a call a week after that apologising and confirming that all penalties had been cancelled. I was promised a written response (which I'm still waiting for).

So going to the top can work. Other complaints dealt with via their usual systems remain, by and large, unresolved.

Thanks (1)
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By Ajtms
09th Apr 2018 10:25

I agree with Ohgoodgodno.
Many of my trust clients have received unlawful £100 late tax return penalties when in fact their trust tax returns were filed early and electronically. This is now the 6th consecutive year that HMRC have issued these unlawful penalties and each year they say sorry and promise it will not happen again. If anybody wants proof that HMRC are not learning from their constant errors, this is it. I have all the evidence which has been sent to the Ombudsman. If a taxpayer made an identical error on his tax return for 6 consecutive years, HMRC would say that this was deliberate and there would be prosecution in court. Whilst we can claim some small amount to cover our fees, HMRC will never learn until their payroll is hit with a million pound fine. We need politicians to give the professional bodies the power to impose fines on the HMRC staff payroll to stop this unconscionable behaviour.
Also, what is the point in HMRC introducing an online complaints form if we agents cannot use it. It is surely agents that make the most complaints on behalf of taxpayers who have suffered HMRC's continuous errors.
Like Ohgoodgodno I am having to spend increasing amounts of my time making complaints; something I never had to do up to about 5 years ago.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Ajtms:
By Nick Graves
09th Apr 2018 17:47

Ajtms wrote:

I agree with Ohgoodgodno.
Many of my trust clients have received unlawful £100 late tax return penalties when in fact their trust tax returns were filed early and electronically. This is now the 6th consecutive year that HMRC have issued these unlawful penalties and each year they say sorry and promise it will not happen again. If anybody wants proof that HMRC are not learning from their constant errors, this is it. I have all the evidence which has been sent to the Ombudsman. If a taxpayer made an identical error on his tax return for 6 consecutive years, HMRC would say that this was deliberate and there would be prosecution in court. Whilst we can claim some small amount to cover our fees, HMRC will never learn until their payroll is hit with a million pound fine. We need politicians to give the professional bodies the power to impose fines on the HMRC staff payroll to stop this unconscionable behaviour.
Also, what is the point in HMRC introducing an online complaints form if we agents cannot use it. It is surely agents that make the most complaints on behalf of taxpayers who have suffered HMRC's continuous errors.
Like Ohgoodgodno I am having to spend increasing amounts of my time making complaints; something I never had to do up to about 5 years ago.

Tax fraud is a terrible thing. Especially when HMRC are committing so much of it...

Complaints about complaints seem to get 'lost' too. But how do we penalise the penalisers for keeping inadequate records?

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PJ
By paulgrca.net
09th Apr 2018 13:21

Never believe what HMRC tell you!

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By accountsdragon
09th Apr 2018 14:46

Most of my clients with RTI queries/complaints simply give up as it costs more to try and resolve!

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By djtax
19th Apr 2018 10:33

My recent experience is that complaints are handled by inexperienced junior staff who seem to have a standard template reply: apology followed by claim 'not up to usual standard' etc. I have seen this letter often enough to start thinking that the my complaints demonstrate what the 'usual standard' actually is!

I will often go out of my way in a complaint to point any apparent out weaknesses in HMRC systems but never get a reply with any conviction that they are bothered to investigate those weaknesses to prevent the same problem recurring with other taxpayers.

In a recent complaint I pointed out that HMRC had wrongly included in a client's PAYE Codes pension contribution relief for two consecutive years that together exceeded the maximum relief permitted by the Annual Allowance rules (even after assuming max unused b/f last 3 years). Their initial reply simply ignored that observation let alone gave any reassurance they could programme their systems (or train their staff) to prevent the same error recurring elsewhere. What would have been the consequences if it was the other way around and on behalf of my client I had claimed relief in excess of the limits?

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By I J Lessels
19th Apr 2018 15:46

I have been doing tax for 30 years now. I think I have had to make more complaints in the last year than in the previous 29. It's that bad.
In fact, I am coming to the conclusion now that if you want HMRC to react to anything, you have to expect to make a formal complaint first. Only then do things start to happen.

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