How HMRC handles complaints
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.
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
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Della Hudson was part of the class of 2009. She built up Hudson Business Accountants and Advisers from her kitchen table to a small team of flexible workers with independent premises in Nailsea, near Bristol. The firm ran regular Money Matters seminars and other training and webinars. Della sold the firm in 2017 in order to focus on the...