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ICAEW calls out HMRC's poor performance

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ICAEW has urged HMRC to restore its dedicated agent line and to improve its service levels, as members and accountants across the profession have complained of service issues and delays across the tax authority’s services.

20th May 2021
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There has been no shortage of complaints about HMRC’s performance recently.

March saw the latest HMRC scandal involving a mass data breach. Thousands of agents across the UK received late filing penalty notices intended for clients of other accountants, mistakenly sent due to a software issue.

The error sparked debate amongst the profession about HMRC’s overall lacking performance. “HMRC is broken and a genuine crisis is looming. Most accountants have lost faith in the system and the public is not far behind,” commented AccountingWEB member Bruce Roberts.

ICAEW calls out HMRC

These frustrations extended to ICAEW, who recently urged HMRC to address its “poor service levels”.

The Tax Faculty pointed out three key issues:

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Replies (43)

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By SteveHa
21st May 2021 09:35

Quote:
We’re working hard to address our wait times and we encourage customers to go online where they can to use our popular digital services

I would hardly call HMRC's digital services "popular", or even technically competent.

And do HMRC not think that, if there were a digital service that worked we would use rather than phone them? We tend to pick up the phone when there is no other option. Not to just chew the fat.

It just shows how blind they are to the problems that they, themselves, cause.

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@enanen
By enanen
21st May 2021 09:36

they need to get back into the office like everyone else

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By Balancing
21st May 2021 09:41

Yes, i agree with ICAEW's comment re poor performance. HMRC have not appeared to have done anything in regard to my reports re an accountant!! ICAEW circle their wagons too!! Member subs are more important than honest practitioners, it seems.

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By Charityguy
21st May 2021 09:40

A very good article Tallula! Summarising the frustrations that everyone is feeling.

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By Ben Alligin
21st May 2021 09:47

"ICAEW sympathised with the challenges HMRC has faced during the course of the pandemic"

Meanwhile accountants just had to crack on and move heaven and earth to file clients tax returns on time, with no help from the ICAEW or HMRC's failing systems. We were all in the same boat, yet the private sector managed to deal with it, adapting to new working practices, ever changing Furlough and SEISS schemes and still meet the deadline. HMRC singularly failed everyone and only now does ICAEW think to halfheartedly criticise them.

The ICAEW need to grow a pair, and start acting on behalf of their members.

A good start would be to tell the government and HMRC that they will advise all members not to comply with the impending MTD Tax, and recommend we all start filing paper tax returns. That would potentially bring the whole system crashing down, and make them realise that they cannot continue to ignore the accounting profession.

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Replying to Ben Alligin:
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By 4b4
21st May 2021 14:43

Ben Alligin wrote:

A good start would be to tell the government and HMRC that they will advise all members not to comply with the impending MTD Tax, and recommend we all start filing paper tax returns. That would potentially bring the whole system crashing down, and make them realise that they cannot continue to ignore the accounting profession.

LOVE this idea - just print them from the software and submit!
Then inform the 'Greens' that we have been forced to do it that way and 'can you imagine how much more paper we're using now'? - then set them on HMRC

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By Cathy Milligan
21st May 2021 09:52

“We’re sorry that it’s taking longer to answer queries at the moment while we’re working to deliver financial assistance through the government’s Covid support schemes"

Does this mean that everyone who once answered the phone, or who opened the letters, or who actioned the letter requests have all been diverted to another department? I think not. I think HMRC have used the Covid 19 situation as an excuse to cover their own failings.

Surely staff who used to answer the phone from the "office" now answer the phone from home? And now on a shorter working day too? Why is that? They cannot all have suddenly acquired the skills to process CJRS claims or SEISS claims? Deferred VAT and POA were granted automatically, so have I missed anything else that HMRC are helping with "financially"?

While I appreciate there are a few questions that could be answered by doing a bit of online research, the vast majority of Agents call for help, because they need actual help from a real knowledgeable person. Perhaps that is more the problem....the lack of knowledgeable people??

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By Bedinog
21st May 2021 19:01

'the vast majority of Agents call for help, because they need actual help from a real knowledgeable person. Perhaps that is more the problem....the lack of knowledgeable people??'

Absolutely, the level of knowledge of the average HMRC call centre staffer is frightening, virtually anything more than adding 2+2 having to be referred to a manger, then there's a50% chance of being cut off anyway.
I agree the whole thing is one great excuse for a desperately failing system, and meantime, the Civil Servants are on full pay while we are wasting time on the phone, writing letters unanswered for months (appeals 6months) or binned as one whistleblower admitted a few years ago, and much of our costs can't be passed on to the client.

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By snickersinatwix
21st May 2021 09:55

And yet if we put one foot wrong, they are ready to pounce on us with penalties etc as agents are not permitted to set one foot wrong. It really is double standards. I am exhausted with all of the extra work covid has dumped on us and HMRC's deteriorating service has been hugely unhelpful.

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Replying to snickersinatwix:
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By Bedinog
21st May 2021 19:08

Couldn't agree more. The pandemic is costing agents especially micro practices a fortune in costs we can't pass on because the 'Covid work' we're doing for impoverished clients, many of whom can't claim recompense, creates further problems for them and potentially loses us clients. The work overload might cause us to fall foul and have to pay the client penalties too, so we're scuppered either way.
And the accountancy bodies? (all of them)- they represent their major members not the little people, and cosying up to the powers that be. Very rare we see them come out fighting, I mean really fighting.

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By PK Busness Services
21st May 2021 10:23

HMRC are a disgrace there are public servants they should answer to the people who use their services
so many occassions in the past 12 months or so i have spent so long hanging on the phone only to have to give up because clients are after answers
Its typical of the public sector they cant manage to do more than one thing at a time
they would never work in the private sector and certainly never work in practice

if HMRC was a private organisation it would have gone bust a very long time ago

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By hughjoyce
21st May 2021 10:23

The part of the message that says let the advisor know your query at the start of the call as they may be due to have one of their breaks does me. No breaks here. No leave. They live in utopia. Why arent they back in the office like everyone else. Their knowledge level is also abysmal. Their wait times are a total joke. Someone needs to do a panorama style programme on this. The current time to change a limited co vat number over to sole trader status is 6 months according to them. This is unacceptable. Are they held to account by anyone, do they have KPIs to meet? Also the people on the covid line couldnt be more patronising and lacking in tax knowledge if they tried.

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By JacquiMBurns
21st May 2021 14:52

And in our client's case they have now refused to change a sole trader's VAT no to his incorporated company because, whilst waiting (application originally made November 2019 (nearly 6 months before the pandemic took hold), he took advantage of the permission to defer his VAT & so now, the sole trader has an outstanding balance. The fact that he accepts this liability & has continued to file VAT returns as a sole trader even though the sales & purchases are actually in the name of the limited company seems to be outside their understanding. This transfer of the VAT number used to be almost instantaneous!

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By [email protected]
21st May 2021 10:28

Jeremy Nottingham FMAAT - Shout me down if you will but I just dialled the last number I have for the ADL - 0300 200 3311 - and got the ADL recorded message. ( I have no query at this time having retired before the pandemic, but someone else with a genuine query needs to check that this line is then working. ) This number was for self-employed only. There never was a dedicated CT ADL for the simple reason that taxpayers rarely used it, so the contact number was effectively for agents.
The diversion of trained call centre staff, firstly for BREXIT and since then for Covid matters must be a nightmare for HMRC. Nonetheless the automation of filing of Tax Returns over the last few years should have released competent higher Grade staff to facilitate an improving user interface. I am so disappointed to read your article !!

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By SteveHa
21st May 2021 10:58

It's a false positive. You still get the message suggesting that it's the ADL, but after the message you go into the general queue, and not to the ADL. The ADL hasn't operated for more than a year.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By [email protected]
21st May 2021 12:23

Thanks for testing. Perhaps with a return to office working matters may improve. I presume it cannot be a coincidence that the ADL has disappeared during covid, but I do not recall any formal announcement in Agent Update. I remain rather shocked for those carrying on my profession.

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By JacquiMBurns
24th May 2021 14:02

Hahaha. Do you have fairies at the bottom of your garden & believe in Santa Claus? Because either of those are far more likely to be true than that HMRC will improve. They were hopeless before COVID & used this as an excuse merely to cover their pre-existing failings. Actually the ADL for VAT disappeared well over a couple of years ago. At least with that, you had a good chance of talking to someone who had minimal knowledge of VAT instead of the current system where the 'adviser' just quotes the VAT guide to you. I had the page open the last time & it was read to me word for word! By the way...VAT reclaims are now taking 5 -6 weeks to be paid from the date the return was submitted although clients can be charged fines/penalties if they are a day late! Also they have, apparently, unilaterally changed what they will discuss with an agent saying they need the client to call. Am I being cynical in thinking they are doing this because the client is unlikely to know what time limits are for dealing with matters & will therefore accept the 'it's being dealt with' line? A client recently lost the sale of a property because HMRC could not get off their backsides & send an Approval of an Option to Tax which they were notified of when the company was registered for VAT 4 years ago despite the fact that it was based on an automatic permission.

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By North East Accountant
21st May 2021 11:08

ICAEW are far too chummy with HMRC and their calling out of HMRC is pathetically weak....

Example of HMRC gross underperformance
Subbie repayment case
19/06/20- Tax return 2020 submitted
24/02/21 - HMRC issue repayment questionnaire (after months of chasing repayment)
09/03/21 - submitted repayment questionnaire, all SCPS, all bank statements, client ID, list of all contractors etc
20/05/21 - after a 53 minute on the phone HMRC advise that our letter of 09/03/21 will not be dealt with until 09/08/21 at the earliest.

Other case letters just go unanswered despite sending reminders and copies every 2 months.

A friend of my wife works in a senior position at HMRC and she is retiring shortly. Since March 2020 whilst "working from home", she and her husband has completely landscaped her garden, built a summer house, completely redecorated her entire house, undertake numerous other DIY projects.... all with no impact on their weekends which they have still had off.

Now apply that across the entire HMRC workforce....(I know not everyone... but there's no accountability and you'll never get sacked so are you telling me they are all busting a gut to get things done......the facts speak for themselves).

Try ringing ICAEW and the recorded message tells you that lots of services are not available due to the pandemic.... why?

Are ICAEW going to reduce our fees due to the lack of services?

The top and bottom of it in government and big organisation's (ICAEW etc) ......no-one's accountable.... they can do anything they like and get away with it (Post Office, Horizon etc).

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Replying to North East Accountant:
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By yogibear47
21st May 2021 12:26

Thank you, a similar scenario and find it frustating when even as soon as the offices "open" and attempts are mede via webchat "everyone is busy and try later" have never been sucessful and it is hopeless trying to get through on the telephone.

Having worked in the profession for so many years are saddened to see how the service has not improved.

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Replying to North East Accountant:
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By Jdopus
21st May 2021 15:05

I was told a direct tale recently by someone (Who told me it in idle chitchat before they knew I was a tax accountant).

Their friend who worked at the agent helpline had been drinking heavily the night before, woke up with a hangover and so was half an hour late logging on to their system while working from home. Making what they thought was a simple excuse to cover their [***], they told their boss that they had some issues signing in that morning.

Instead of just accepting the excuse, their boss referred the case to HMRC's IT department and the fortunate helpline agent was told that they would have to wait 3 weeks for a phone call from HMRC's internal technical support to "help solve their issue". In the meantime, they were left with no work to do so were given a free 3 week paid holiday from their job of answering phones on the helpline.

I told my acquaintance that I was a tax accountant and that it wasn't so funny when you were waiting on hold for multiple hours every week because of BS like this.

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Replying to Jdopus:
Morph
By kevinringer
21st May 2021 15:27

HMRC have said that for H&S reasons HMRC phone staff can't be on the phone for more than an hour and must have a 5 minute break every hour. I thought H&S works both ways which means if there is a H&S issue for HMRC staff, there's a H&S issue for agents too. Trouble is we have to queue for 45+ minutes on the (former)ADL which is another reason why HMRC should re-prioritise the ADL. But somehow HMRC only see it from their angle.

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By North East Accountant
21st May 2021 16:02

It beggars belief........but doesn't surprise me.

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By Bedinog
21st May 2021 19:24

Reading your story and the responses the one comfort I draw is that I thought there was something adrift with me. I work entirely on my own from home, therefore cut off from my colleagues. Now I see everyone is in the same boat as me, and we're all getting ripped off by HMRC and our professional bodies are as much use as a chocolate fireplace. I'm sure some of us will have lost clients, too because they won't believe HMC is behind most of the delays and incompetence.
There's talk about financially compensating front line workers suffering from long Covid- I wouldn't mind betting the Civil Service Unions will try and make acase for their lot qualifying as 'front line'. Front line 15 months holiday for most of them it seems

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By sammerchant
21st May 2021 11:35

The ICAEW should also be really exercised about making tax digital for self-assessment. There is little point in HMRC's receiving terabytes of information which is essentially useless. It is merely a snapshot of the receipts and payments. For accounts that do not use a cash basis, this is not going to prove anything to HMRC. And £10,000 p.a. (also for rents receivable) is going to place an intolerable burden on those BTL landlords with one or two properties who have managed them themselves. I wonder how many will fall foul of these requirements. They will now be required to submit four quarterly returns followed by the annual tax return.

Does this mean that the short self-assessment tax return for those businesses with a turnover below the VAT threshold will be withdrawn?

And, finally, how will they use this information?

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By sammerchant
21st May 2021 13:10

And what has the Office of Tax Simplification (a misnomer if there ever was one!) been doing while HMRC brings in all the complications? Probably mesmerised by all the stupidity.

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By BIGWAL
21st May 2021 14:11

Pity it's taken so long for ICAEW to do something. And high time most other PBs started ramping up the pressure - they've been far to slow.
It would also help if HMRC diverted the resources currently involved with MTD into more urgent matters - but sadly can't expect them to apply common sense.

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By BIGWAL
21st May 2021 14:14

Duplicated

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Replying to sammerchant:
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By BIGWAL
21st May 2021 14:13

Pity it's taken so long for ICAEW to do something. And high time most other PBs started ramping up the pressure - they've been far too slow.
It would also help if HMRC diverted the resources currently involved with MTD into more urgent matters - but sadly can't expect them to apply common sense.

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Replying to BIGWAL:
Morph
By kevinringer
21st May 2021 14:53

BIGWAL wrote:

It would also help if HMRC diverted the resources currently involved with MTD into more urgent matters - but sadly can't expect them to apply common sense.


Look at 30-day CGT: HMRC launched it and now they don't have the resources to deal with it thus the 130-day delay processing PPDCGT forms. And even though they can't cope, they're still steamrollering on with MTD ITSA. I suspect the problem is too many disjointed projects within HMRC. The people delivering MTD ITSA are only interested in MTD ITSA and have no interest in anything else, not even MTD VAT. Blinkers on.
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By Homeworker
01st Jun 2021 13:33

The proposed income threshold is ridiculously low and will drag non-taxpayers in, as well as many pensioners who are not digitally enabled (and just try getting an exemption for them!)
I found out from my governing body that because they are a registered charity they are not allowed to challenge the policy of an elected government, so can do very little to get the low threshold changed! Perhaps we need to try another petition, though I know the last one didn't succeed. Any takers out there?

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Morph
By kevinringer
21st May 2021 13:34

HMRC are supposed to be the national tax authority but they're actually a national embarrassment. They've sunk this low because they're a monopoly and know they won't lose 'customers' no matter how dreadful their service levels sink. They blame Covid and cut themselves slack, but they don't seem to realise we and our clients have to also deal with Covid, and Brexit and a whole stack of new regime HMRC decided to force on us eg 30-day CGT, CIS reverse charge.

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By jamiea4f
22nd May 2021 12:05

Pretty sure covid is just a convenient excuse to allow inefficient organisations to get even worse.

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By JacquiMBurns
21st May 2021 14:44

There are also many issues with phoning HMRC as an agent & being told that HMRC cannot discuss the matter with you only with the client even though they confirm that a 64-8 is in place authorising them to do just that. This has not happened only once but many times.

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By tedbuck
21st May 2021 16:07

The answer I like is submitting all SARs by paper - let HMRC suffer what we have to suffer.

The disadvantage is that HMRC staff are not very competent at inputting returns so we would lose more time correcting their efforts but the effect of it would be worthwhile as HMRC take us for granted because they hold all the cards - or nearly so but just think of the extra time they would take - it might, just might, wake them up to reality but I honestly doubt it. Much better perhaps to send them monthly reminders of unanswered letters and a complaint after the second month and a letter to the Chancellor after the third month but as those would receive no reply what next? Anyone with a good idea? Just imagine the pile of mail at no 11 Downing Street!

No use expecting the ICAEW or the other bodies to do much, as one of your correspondents suggests they are too hand in glove with HMRC.

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Replying to tedbuck:
By Nebs
21st May 2021 16:23

tedbuck wrote:

The answer I like is submitting all SARs by paper - let HMRC suffer what we have to suffer.

The disadvantage is that HMRC staff are not very competent at inputting returns so we would lose more time correcting their efforts but ....

But we can then bill them for our time in correcting their mistakes, which will further slow them down.

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By sunil808
21st May 2021 16:11

this is very good, thank you for sharing with us

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By GHarr497688
21st May 2021 21:57

What an awful organisation HMRC are. They make your life unbearable and then say they want to work with Accountants. None of their systems work and the systems they have are not fit for purpose. Sadly they fail to fix these systems and then bring in MTD to and prove how good they are. With Covid they have in reality shut the shop and passed their dirty work to the Accountant . SEISS , JRS etc all passed over with weekly emails saying do this that and the other. Then they expect you to check clients work , report clients if they do wrong even when it's the client who pay the Accountants bills. HMRC are a disgrace to The Government and need to be made much more accountable and answerable to their short comings. As a business they wouldn't last 3 months.

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By jamiea4f
22nd May 2021 12:02

Completely agree with this, the helpline is a joke (anyone tried recharging a client for the time wasted waiting for HMRC to answer the phone?). As for answering their post, 6 months waiting for a response to a letter asking for a tax refund for a client is beyond belief.

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Replying to jamiea4f:
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By sammerchant
23rd May 2021 17:28

But what really rankles is that they make no allowances for the Agents (illness, sole practitioners) and continue to demand a response within 28 days or other deadline.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
24th May 2021 10:51

Poor performance?

It has been an absolute effing s**t show.

My most recent example...

Submitted a Tax Return on 23/04, shows as "Received on 23/04", the figures still haven't pulled through, spoke to HMRC (as did the client) software glitch meant it all went "a bit wrong" and they hope to have it fixed by mid June...

The client needs the SA302 as the bank will ONLY accept the screenshot of the HMRC page as backing to the calculation and proof it has been submitted (whatever happened to when Accountants could sign something to confirm the calculation was correct / what was submitted).

Getting hold of them has been a disaster, the online chat facility is an absolute joke, you are expected to dedicate a screen to the page in the hope it "refreshes" and you are graced with the ability to enter stuff into the chat box.

I personally think there needs to be a huge root and branch sort out of HMRC, at times it feels like they wish to push out Accountants but then they realise "ooohhh they actually save us time".

The fact as Agents we still can't see a clients VAT Balance via the MTD Portal is a joke.

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Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
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By Bedinog
24th May 2021 14:11

It hasn't been unknown to have a HMRC staffer opine off the record that pushing out accountants is the intention, and evidence over recent years really has confirmed that with shutting down effective working groups, HMRC liaison officers, and reps speaking at practitioners' branch meetings, not to mention the increased restriction of what a 64-8 authorisation actually authorises.
The intention is to sow discord between accountant and client with the client believing the accountant isn't representing him/her to HMRC therefore undermining confidence, and losing the accountant the client (he says, writing from experience)

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By JacquiMBurns
24th May 2021 20:17

Does anyone have any written details from HMRC of the restrictions that are now in place after submission of the 64-8? I was beginning to think I was imagining it as have never received any info. on this.
Thanks in advance to anyone who can enlighten me.

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By markabacus
24th May 2021 17:20

Poor service!! In Dec 16 I contacted HMRc as I required an SA302 and my client of nearly 10yrs was showing none available. In Jan 17 one of their techies connected to my computer so they could see the issue and confirmed it the problem was at their end.

Some of our clients they all show, some show no tax overviews/summaries, whilst others only some, so when a client requires an SA302 for typically a mortgage application I usually have to ring HMRC and order them. Not great but it wasn't so bad while we had the ADL but now 45mins+ a real PITA!

Only today a client needed them, nothing showing online but he agreed to ring HMRC himself because we have no ADL

Over 4yrs and still no fix. This is what you get with a monoploy!

Customers............. my..............

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