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Taskforce to tackle HMRC’s postal backlog

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HMRC has set up a taskforce to address the backlog of unanswered post following months of complaints from agents and taxpayers of long delays. 

14th Jul 2023
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In a bid to reduce mounting postal requests from agents, HMRC has expanded the Agent Account Manager (AAM) team to trial a dedicated taskforce focused solely on processing letters more than 12 months old. 

What to expect

Coming into force earlier this week (10 July) agents can now get in touch with the Agents' Issue Resolution Service via their online form to identify post over a year old where the tax department has not responded.

After registering with the AAM, agents who escalate their enquiry will receive an automated message acknowledging receipt. HMRC will reply within five working days to confirm that the reported post has been identified, with a more detailed response within 15 days.

HMRC has reminded agents that the AAM service will not deal with issues covered by other departments, including:

  • Cases where a response has already been provided to an agent, such as a request for additional information
  • Formal complaints (unless there is associated post over 12 months old without a response
  • Compliance checks (unless there is associated post over 12 months old without a response)
  • Appeals against HMRC decisions
  • Post items less than 12 months old

A positive step?

The announcement has been touted as a positive step by some industry figures who have long been pressuring HMRC to tackle its backlog of post.

Helen Thornley, a technical officer at the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT), said she was "delighted to see this specific targeting of really old post by HMRC".

Commenting on Twitter, Thornley said: "We have seen exercises like this in the past work well to bring down backlogs of old post in smaller departments like trusts/IHT and I’ve been pushing HMRC to get to grips with what is sitting in the backlog for more general post - we just need agents to report it now.

“There’s a big gap between what HMRC are reporting - which is piles of post on hand going down - and what members tell me regarding delays - so I hope this exercise can help flush out blockages in the system,” Thornley continued.

However, others were less impressed by HMRC’s announcement. Robert Salter, director of Blick Rothenberg, argued that the trial was “simply too little and too late” and “does nothing to resolve the service issues which are found throughout HMRC”.

“The HMRC plan simply involves the Revenue pulling away resources from their phone lines and other teams to deal with the unanswered correspondence," he said.

Skewering HMRC’s decision to restrict its “safety net” self assessment helpline over the summer months back in April, Salter described the tax authority's decision as “robbing Peter, to pay Paul” without addressing the fundamental issues faced by HMRC, include "a lack of staff, often limited training, and poor technology”.

A long road ahead

The mounting pressure and dissatisfaction with HMRC’s handling of unanswered post has long been lamented by those on AccountingWEB's Any Answers forums.

AccountingWEB users shared their own experiences of waiting for a response from HMRC. Joe Alderson wrote that they had “at least half a dozen ongoing disputes/cases with HMRC [and] had no response for at least six months,” while taxinfo noted that they've been waiting for a response from HMRC for over a year. 

However, Geoff56 won the contest for the longest wait for a reply, writing that they were still waiting on HMRC correspondence from a letter sent in October 2020.

“Despite reminders (on which I have now given up) and resubmission of everything a year later, two years and eight months down the line, still nothing,” Geoff56 added.

HMRC have noted that they will be monitoring the trial and offering an update on its progress in August.

Replies (35)

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By kelvindavies
14th Jul 2023 17:00

They only deal with post older than ONE YEAR? Is that the acceptable limit deemed by HMRC?

Thanks (3)
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By Hugo Fair
14th Jul 2023 17:22

In the unlikely event that HMRC manage to 'monitor the trial' (how and against what criteria and targets?) ... who's prepared to take bets on their 'proposals' when they "offer an update on progress in August"?

Any 'success' (even if merely claimed whilst remaining undiscernible to us) *should* mean that they keep the team in operation ... reducing the 'qualification' to > 11 mths, then > 10 mths and so on.
That way there'd be highly visible signs of progress plus a sense that curing (rather than coping with) the problem is their objective.

Conversely any 'failure' only leaves two options ... more dedicated resources or an 'amnesty' for anything to which they've failed to respond in time. [the pigs are ready for take-off, sah].

Thanks (1)
Tornado
By Tornado
14th Jul 2023 17:53

Do you remember the Whitehall Theatre Farces in the 60's and 70's where if anything was going to go wrong, it did.

Full of ridiculous situations, but great fun and a lot of laughs.

I think it is about time for a revival starting with -

Chase me HMRC

I might even write it myself.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Tornado:
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By johnjenkins
17th Jul 2023 10:11

Brian Rix would be turning in his grave.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By AndyC555
17th Jul 2023 16:50

I'm old enough to remember the radio series The Men from The Ministry (it ceased in 1977) which was, I suppose a sort of fore-runner to Yes Minister.

I can't remember much about it except for one line about how the secretary working in the department was judged to be improving because she had ceased to type letters which began "Dear Sir or Madman".

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
14th Jul 2023 20:08

So does this mean all post over a year is now binned, and the only way to action is to chase them?

Hmm.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Wanderer
15th Jul 2023 11:37

Soon they'll be adopting the same method as another government department I dealt with recently:-

HMG wrote:

As it has been some time since your email you may have had your query resolved through another route, so we are following up to confirm that you still require a response from us and so that your query can be prioritised.

Please note that if we don’t hear back from you, we will assume that your query has already been answered and no further response will be sent.

So basically we've binned all old communications and you'll have to contact us again for anything to be dealt with!
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By Catherine Newman
15th Jul 2023 08:39

There wouldn't have been so much post in the first place if HMRC had manned the phones and not made so many c----ups.

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Replying to Catherine Newman:
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By BrianL
17th Jul 2023 10:17

And I bet that HMRC has no idea what proportion of the letters are failure demand, for example, caused by HMRC giving incomplete or misleading guidance, or guidance that conflicts with legislation, to name just two. If they reduced failure demand, their capacity to deal with value demand (which is what HMRC exists to do) would be greater. As a wise man pointed out perhaps 50 years ago, putting out fires only restores you to the situation that you were in previously. It doesn't remove the cause of the fire. It doesn't improve the system.

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By Wanderer
15th Jul 2023 11:31

Why does this apply to post over 1 YEAR? It should be 30 days, as that's the requirement every letter from HMRC places upon us.

Recently had HMRC issue a Para 1 Schedule 36 FA 2008 notice. Of course they'd had all the information months before, just their "scanning department was behind, could we please e-mail copies"!

Thanks (3)
Replying to Wanderer:
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By HamishMackrell
17th Jul 2023 17:03

If only they would be honest and say sorry when that happens.

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Replying to Wanderer:
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By HamishMackrell
17th Jul 2023 17:03

If only they would be honest and say sorry when that happens.

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Replying to Wanderer:
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By HamishMackrell
17th Jul 2023 17:04

If only they would be honest and say sorry when that happens.
Surely they can work extra hours to clear the over 12 months backlog?

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Replying to Wanderer:
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By HamishMackrell
17th Jul 2023 17:04

If only they would be honest and say sorry when that happens.
Surely they can work extra hours to clear the over 12 months backlog?

Thanks (0)
Replying to Wanderer:
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By HamishMackrell
17th Jul 2023 17:03

If only they would be honest and say sorry when that happens.

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Replying to HamishMackrell:
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By johnjenkins
18th Jul 2023 11:46

Wow two bad cases of hiccups

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
15th Jul 2023 11:55

Someone probably needs to send HMRC a copy of " Going Postal", catch is by the time they find and open the parcel it likely will be too late.

Thanks (3)
Replying to DJKL:
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By Hugo Fair
15th Jul 2023 13:26

Now there's a missed opportunity ... if only someone had suggested to Sir Terry that he write "Not In My Name" (a history of tax collection in the UK, a story told by HRH after he has been appraised of all the current shenanigans).

That really would scupper the Harra elevation!

Thanks (1)
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By NotAnAccountant2
16th Jul 2023 09:58

HMRC job vacancies:

Agent Post Handler (significantly delayed post)

Your role: Read letters from tax agents and quickly identify additional information that can be requested. Fill in the appropriate letter template to request said information.

Required skills: Ability to read. Knowledge of tax and accounting is not required for this role.

Pay: minimum wage. Performance bonuses will be paid to people consistently replying to more than 300 letters per hour during a shift.

HMRC is an equal opportunities employer.

====================
Hmmm, I've just read Wanderer's reply - looks like reading might not be a required skill either! I can only guess that the don't even know what post is over 12 months waiting for a reply or they could automate it...

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Replying to NotAnAccountant2:
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By ruth.julian
18th Jul 2023 15:15

HMRC binned minimum educational qualifications for a basic literacy and numeracy test for its clerical workers at least 15 years ago.

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Replying to ruth.julian:
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By Hugo Fair
18th Jul 2023 19:50

Aah c'mon, that's not fair.

They didn't bin 'em, just amalgamated 'em ... which is why they all seem up to par with niteracy.

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By mbee1
17th Jul 2023 07:23

I remember my days in HMRC in the 70's and 80's when we had form 384 (formerly 5/CI) every month and we had to count post over 14 days old! In the days before the count, I had to get onto my staff to ensure there wasn't any that old. I worked in a very small District office in rural Derbyshire and we often got in a pickle and occasionally had post over 28 days old. In those days there were "Head Office Relief" staff you could ask for, who were a team who went around to local tax offices who got behind, for a week or two at a time, to help them out.

Now they count post over 365 days old. Those were the days.

Thanks (6)
Replying to mbee1:
By SteveHa
17th Jul 2023 09:32

My recollection is that come 5/CI counting day, if you had post over 28 days it was a hanging offence.

Thanks (4)
Replying to SteveHa:
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By Mr J Andrews
17th Jul 2023 09:44

Agreed. Over 7 {days] was frowned upon. Over 14 unacceptable. Anything later than a month meant a note on the tax official's ''progress'' record and a stiff lecture with the Management Inspector.
The key word, of course, being Management - which has sadly been phased out.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Homeworker
17th Jul 2023 10:49

SteveHa wrote:

My recollection is that come 5/CI counting day, if you had post over 28 days it was a hanging offence.


I remember one TOHG (Tax Officer, Higher Grade) who was so desperate to cover up the problem that he took post home and hid it in a suitcase. His unfortunate wife only found out after he committed suicide. We all had a strict talking to from the District Inspector after that.
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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Helpful Harry
17th Jul 2023 11:35

I wish the accountingweb system allowed me to do more than one thank-you".
I cannot believe the situation that HMRC are currently in. Bearing in mind that we used to write EVERY PAYE code by hand and write one for every agent too. Also, rewrite every con-card every 5 years.....Those Were The Days My Friend, How we wished they'd never ended (To paraphrase Dana) tehe.

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Replying to mbee1:
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By Paul Morton
17th Jul 2023 09:57

I remember those days well. I actually did some head office relief around 1985 and spent three months working in Worthing 2 office as they had post over 3 months old. The office was a complete mess, the district inspector, whose name escapes me, used to be a naval captain and he crashed his ship into Shoreham pier. He was no better at steering the tax office in the right direction!

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Tornado
By Tornado
17th Jul 2023 09:55

I am finding that more and more clients are receiving emails from HMRC telling then to look on their Personal Tax Accounts for details of code changes, etc, but find nothing there when they log in. In fact, those few of my clients who do have Personal and Business Tax Accounts find them difficult to understand and lacking information.

In many of these instances I cannot help as I often do not know what the emails are about either.

I have taken to advising some of my clients to opt out of the email notifications and ask for notifications through the post as this not only saves them time in trying to find out what an email is all about, but it will often mean that they do not need to contact me.

HMRC had better review their postal notification system as I predict that many people will find postal notifications easier to deal with than emails from HMRC which could be one of dozens/hundreds of emails that some people receive each day.

Thanks (1)
Tornado
By Tornado
17th Jul 2023 10:44

I have a vague memory that perhaps some 40 years ago, HMRC were something like 3 years behind with their correspondence so they decided to close all ongoing investigations and other matters where they were in dispute with Taxpayers, and start from scratch again with current matters. This could have been the only solution at the time when the vast majority of their work was carried out by mail and face to face meetings.

Today we don't have a reliable postal system and HMRC do not communicate by email, they make no effort to speak to anyone on the phone and they rarely meet face to face with taxpayers, so they are in a hole that is getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps it is a good time to forget the past and start again. At least we would not have to read about Appeals that are five or more years old about legislation that has since been changed and would no longer attract an appeal.

HMRC are way too slow for the modern ere, and touting MTD as a wonder innovation will not fool anyone any more.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Tornado:
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By johnjenkins
17th Jul 2023 11:00

Taking that one step further, there is a train of thought with many that the whole world should scrap debt and start again with some common sense ground rules.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
Tornado
By Tornado
17th Jul 2023 11:36

That sort of happened in 1988/89/90/91

I was very busy and employed a number of people and a few sub-contractors. Most of my clients were doing very well and making big profits and everyone was blissfully happy but there was a big problem looming as the profits were only paper profits with just about everyone being owed large amounts of cash.

Then it happened, one company went under without warning and then the chain reaction started when those waiting to be paid for work they had done, never received the money and thus could not pay the people that they owed money to, and so on.

I lost a lot of money, not just profits, but actual cash that I had paid to employees and sub-contractors for work that I never got paid for.

A difficult time for the country, but a great deal of debt was cleared in one go.

Understandably, this changed the way that I ran my business in the future and was a valuable lesson in taking a sceptical view first of any great ideas that have no substance, hence my scathing criticism of MTD which is just like a promise of riches that I know we will never get.

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Morph
By kevinringer
17th Jul 2023 14:15

I have a suggestion that will help HMRC's postal backlog: we take 12 months to respond to HMRC post. The cessation of agent responses for 12 months will give HMRC ample time to clear their backlog. I'm sure HMRC will welcome this agent initiative as it will help them, and we'll still be responding quicker than they are.

Thanks (3)
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By Tom+Cross
17th Jul 2023 16:20

Yet another policy being thought up, on the hoof.

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By JamesDS
18th Jul 2023 09:35

Can we not just give Harra his pigging Knighthood and get rid?

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By Tom+Cross
18th Jul 2023 09:48

The real problem of course is, that ALL Government departments have similar problems.

Never mind, it's 'school's out' at the end of the week. That, of course, is for the kids of Westminster.

I've two client's who are busily putting together Visa applications, for Australia and I can well understand why.

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