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Tax bodies raise concerns over HMRC service levels

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Following pressure from their members, accountancy’s professional bodies have written a joint letter to HMRC highlighting “long-standing concerns” over the tax department’s service levels. 

 

22nd Jun 2022
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A letter, signed by ATT, CIOT, ICAEW and ICAS, calls attention to the frequent concerns raised by their members about “poor HMRC service levels”. 

The professional bodies broke from their usual diplomacy, where they would typically not publicly express any concerns about HMRC’s performance standards, and published the letter after being continuously contacted by their members and faced with questions over what they’re going to do about it. 

“We are under considerable pressure from our members to demonstrate what we are doing about poor HMRC performance levels and to raise the issues with government, parliamentary committees and the media,” said the letter. “The impact on individuals and businesses of these delays is considerable.”

Common issues

The letter sent to HMRC’s director general customer services shared a number of issues that “should not come as a surprise” to the tax department.  

The frequent issues raised by the professional bodies include self assessment registrations and refunds, correspondence about VAT grouping and the option to tax, section 455 refunds, responses to technical queries, corporation tax post and returns not processed. 

The professional bodies also flagged the long-standing complaints stemming from the “erratic” agent dedicated line. 

The agent line was withdrawn during the pandemic but, although HMRC restored access last summer, the professional bodies reported in the letter that accountants still face long waiting times, calls unexpectedly cut off and promised callbacks not actually happening. 

When the priority helpline returned last year, HMRC committed to a 10-minute turnaround time. But the feedback from the professional bodies suggests that waiting times haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. The dedicated line returned under the proviso that agents were being encouraged to use digital services rather than use the phone lines as the first port of call. 

Professional bodies seek more information

Ahead of the next representative bodies steering group on 5 July, the professional bodies asked for more information and updates on three areas key to HMRC’s customer service: 

  1. HMRC performance dashboard: The bodies want HMRC to confirm the expected timescale for the rollout of the performance dashboard. The dashboard was designed to give agents a better idea of the waiting times and postal progress, but as of the start of the year, it was still under trial.  
  2. Public Accounts Committee (PAC): In February, the influential group of MPs took HMRC to task earlier for their decade of “inadequate levels of customer service”. The committee saw improvement in 2016, but since then service levels had declined. In its recommendations, which the government agreed with, the PAC called on HMRC to explain the service levels it’s aiming to provide, how it has tested its customer service plans, and any contingency plans if taxpayer communication exceeds the forecasted levels. The professional bodies want to know if these plans are still on target, especially as these recommendations are expected to be covered in HMRC’s Treasury Minute response this month. 
  3. HMRC performance statistics: The professional bodies also asked HMRC when the latest performance statistics for January to March 2022 will be published. 

“Solid progress”

HMRC confirmed to AccountingWEB that it will respond to the letter from professional bodies in due course. 

Responding to the complaints raised in the letter, an HMRC spokesperson said: “We made solid progress last year and this will carry on in 2022/23.

“We continue to improve our helpline service and are currently recruiting extra staff. Average call waiting times (year to date) have fallen by seven minutes from April 2021 to February 2022 and we’ve also increased the proportion of correspondence cleared within 15 days by more than 20 percentage points over the same period.

“Overall customer satisfaction has remained above 80%.”

Not the first intervention

While professional bodies largely refrain from making public statements, they have intervened in recent years to call out poor service lines. In May last year, ICAEW published a catalogue of complaints about HMRC’s “poor service levels” and urged the tax department to restore its agent dedicated line. 

HMRC has struggled to keep on top of its service levels since the tax department had to redirect frontline support to cope with the pressures of the Covid pandemic and the UK leaving the EU. 

In February this year, HMRC cut back its VAT helplines to four days a week for two months to work through stocks of post built up over the past year.  

Community headaches

Long delays from HMRC have become a regular topic on AccountingWEB’s Any Answers forum. In April, reader JRX said they had just received a letter from HMRC which began: “Thank you for your letter of 25th August 2021. I apologise for the delay in responding to you.'” 

While this member waited eight months for a reply, other AccountingWEB users reported waiting times of over a year. AccountingWEB regular Snickersinatwist, for example, submitted a loss carry back claim for corporation tax on 12 October 2020 and HMRC finally processed it on 20 December 2021. 

The criticism from the professional bodies follows an excoriating takedown of HMRC’s service levels from the public accounts committee in February this year. 

The committee concluded that HMRC’s customer service had “collapsed” and their recovery plans were “not clear”. The report found that average waiting times were over 15 minutes and only 43% of post received a response within 15 days. 

Replies (73)

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By bosclibby
22nd Jun 2022 09:42

Be honest, HMRC are a shambles. Barely fit for purpose. It wasn't perfect by a long way when there were local offices but dealing with them on a day to day basis now is tortuous and they've become progressively worse year on year
I could rant on for pages!

Thanks (18)
Replying to bosclibby:
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By Hugo Fair
22nd Jun 2022 10:35

Complacency was never more obvious ... "“We made solid progress last year and this will carry on in 2022/23."

Solid progress like a lead weight, tossed overboard, does on it's way to the bottom!

Thanks (13)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By Paul Crowley
23rd Jun 2022 18:00

If the ICAEW looks to be involved with criticising HMRC then things must be worse than I thought they were.

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By vinylnobbynobbs
22nd Jun 2022 09:42

I really do not know where HMRC get their statistics but I do not see this in the front line when it comes to telephone calls and replies to post.
Why our professional bodies do not start a national newspaper campaign to highlight the inefficiencies of HMRC. If they are indicative of the civil service as a whole then we are worse than a third world country.

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Replying to vinylnobbynobbs:
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By Red1960
22nd Jun 2022 11:22

The UK is a third rate country with third world levels of corruption, third world levels of ineptitude and dishonesty in public life, in the public sector and in the private sector, that filters down to every sector of social and private life.

So long as the focus is on getting the PR right rather than solving the underlying problem our country will continue its precipitous decline.

It's not just the problems with HMRC but also the problems with the professional bodies who for decades have failed to bring the decline in the level of public service to the attention of the press and the media to highlight the problem in the collective consciousness.

The result unsurprisingly is that the problem has got worse.

Worse still the relationship between the top firms in the profession, the professional bodies and HMRC has already fallen into complete disrepute. Let's not even get into the revolving door issue etc.

Ask the man on the Clapham Omnibus and he'll tell you... "they're all in it together".

This goes way back even further than Hartnett and the culture at HMRC even before that.

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Replying to Red1960:
ghm
By TaxTeddy
22nd Jun 2022 11:34

I would invoke Hanlon's razor - an adage that states "Never attribute to malice or conspiracy that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

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Replying to Red1960:
By Silver Birch Accts
22nd Jun 2022 13:57

A bit harsh, comrade.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
RLI
By lionofludesch
22nd Jun 2022 14:05

Silver Birch Accts wrote:

A bit harsh, comrade.

Just read the papers. Full of cronyism, wasted resources, fatcats getting rich on Government contracts.

Not harsh at all.

Thanks (2)
Replying to lionofludesch:
By Silver Birch Accts
24th Jun 2022 09:59

The UK is better than most, maybe not as good as some but at least you can express your revolutionary opinions.

Thanks (2)
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By Rgab1947
22nd Jun 2022 09:48

"HMRC confirmed to AccountingWEB that it will respond to the letter from professional bodies in due course."

That will be a long wait then.

Thanks (20)
Replying to Rgab1947:
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By 4b4
22nd Jun 2022 10:15

Ha ha ha - yes, my new record, received a reply dated 1st June 2022 saying

'Many thanks for your letter dated 21st June 2021, I apologise for the delay in replying and for the inconvenience this may have caused. We have an unusually high volume of correspondence on hand and are unfortunately responding outside the working target'

A year regarding a VAT repayment- really?

Thanks (12)
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By ourpetsheadsarefallingoff
22nd Jun 2022 09:49

I've started sending them formal complaint letters as soon as something goes wrong (return not processed after a few days, refund not issued after a few weeks), it may be coincidence but I have noticed a much quicker response time as a result. HMRC are explicit that they don't treat any matter differently just because you complain, but myself and a colleague seem to be finding that it helps. I've only done a few though, small sample size.

Thanks (9)
Replying to ourpetsheadsarefallingoff:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Jun 2022 09:55

That's strange, I've started making formal complaints too and its amazing how quickly they respond. It appears they do treat complaints differently.

Thanks (6)
Replying to ourpetsheadsarefallingoff:
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By Ben Alligin
22nd Jun 2022 09:55

I tried that approach with limited success. I am now onto the Adjudicator's Office complaining about HMRC complaints procedure!! If it proves successful I will let you know.

Thanks (6)
Replying to ourpetsheadsarefallingoff:
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By Red1960
22nd Jun 2022 11:28

Well, we did try that verbally and in writing... but they just ignored them.

The only way to do it is by MP complaint but that is time consuming.

Eventually you realise that the whole process is too time consuming and you'll never recover the costs... so you forget it and the situation deteriorates even more.

Thanks (1)
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By philaccountant
22nd Jun 2022 09:50

If HMRC could just get MTD for ITSA through it will fix all the problems, just like MTD did for VAT.

Thanks (3)
Replying to philaccountant:
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By Red1960
22nd Jun 2022 11:29

I appreciate your sense of humour!

Thanks (1)
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Jun 2022 09:52

I'm glad its not only me that keeps getting cut off. I quite often wonder if this is done on purpose when they are squirming and struggling to answer my questions as they know they are in the wrong.

Thanks (5)
Replying to rob winder:
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By Rgab1947
22nd Jun 2022 11:30

ditto

Thanks (1)
Replying to Rgab1947:
By kenny achampong
22nd Jun 2022 13:59

Ive noticed, 3 times, its been on the dot of 30 minutes, even when they took 26 minutes to answer. It used to be that it rang for 30 minutes before being cut off, and they have probably left that switched on, even now when they have started answering calls again.

It's scandalous that they are still going on about MTD when they can't even use a phone properly or answer letters. What on earth is MTD going to look like if they do foist it on everybody ? Why not ditch the whole thing now and get all those people back to proper work.

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By Hometing
22nd Jun 2022 10:08

In the last 18 months or so, I've been promised roughly 20 call backs from various departments for various reasons. Not once (literally) have I received a call back.

Waiting >12m for a response to letters relating to annual claims/elections is not good enough. And the cheek of the deadlines they impose on us sometimes is laughable.

Same issue with DVLA. They don't have to give good service - you aren't going elsewhere after all.

Thanks (5)
Replying to Hometing:
wolfy
By rob winder
22nd Jun 2022 10:24

If we are naming and shaming other government departments I will throw the National Land Registry into the ring. It took them nearly a year to add my name to the deeds of a property.

Thanks (2)
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By yvettemr
22nd Jun 2022 10:10

I've resorted to writing to Jim Harra to get them to action requests. Took over 2 years for them to action a 64-8 for a non-resident landlord company and to provide the CT reference that should have been provided in April 2020.

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Replying to yvettemr:
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By Catherine Newman
22nd Jun 2022 12:55

I did too. It was very efficient. They told me the deadlines they were working to, kept within them and paid my client £50 with an apology.

A subscriber to here gave me the email address.

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Replying to Catherine Newman:
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By yvettemr
22nd Jun 2022 13:49

Wow. Unfortunately it took 4 letters (2 from directors & 2 from the agent) over 6 months with no apology at the end of it. The non-resident/international department had other departments taking messages as there was no-one there to deal with any queries. Needless to say none of the messages were ever picked up on.

Another non-resident landlord company has just received hefty SA100 (not SA700) late filing penalties......

As others have said, HMRC is no longer fit for purpose.

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By kdbr
22nd Jun 2022 10:28

Nothing to say on the MTD proposals, and the likely impact on their members, then...

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Replying to kdbr:
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By Red1960
22nd Jun 2022 11:33

Shudder to even contemplate that... plus the 91,000 civil servants who are apparently surplus to current requirements. I imagine all the phone lines will be closed and the only option will be an online form hidden on their website that is periodically shunted from one dark, dank corner to another so that no one can find it.

Thanks (1)
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By JustAnotherUser
22nd Jun 2022 10:43

I know what will fix this, mandate millions of people into updating records quarterly, nothing can go wrong surely!

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By SteveHa
22nd Jun 2022 10:45

As ex-revenue (I left in 2000), I remember our own targets. Correspondence dealt with in 14 days (that's real days, not working days), and heaven help you if you had anything more than 28 days old.

Telephone answered, by a person, within 5 rings.

Whole case working, where any issue or enquiry would be handled by the same person from cradle to grave.

Pre-dating that, direct telephone lines to the officer dealing with your taxes. In the most extreme cases, direct access to the District Inspector.

We knew the local accountants, and they knew us (and in fact we often socialised).

HMRC is a travesty and not even fit to be a shadow of what it once was.

Thanks (23)
Replying to SteveHa:
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By bosclibby
22nd Jun 2022 10:56

Spot on

Thanks (2)
Replying to SteveHa:
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By 4b4
22nd Jun 2022 12:19

Being close to retirement (hopefully), I too remember those halcyon days - our (Profession) side knew your side also - it's sad in a way?

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By Geoff56
22nd Jun 2022 12:45

The relationships that we built up with the local Inspectors were invaluable, and it worked both ways.

Thanks (5)
Replying to SteveHa:
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By North East Accountant
22nd Jun 2022 12:46

Ah the good old days....I remember them well.

The problem in the public sector is that no-one is accountable for anything and there are no real consequences for lack of action/failure etc.

Thanks (3)
Replying to SteveHa:
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By Wisey
22nd Jun 2022 14:17

Yup my recollection too, although be honest the over 14 was massaged by management. Team(not)working was a death knell.

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By mbee1
23rd Jun 2022 16:30

SteveHa wrote:

As ex-revenue (I left in 2000), I remember our own targets. Correspondence dealt with in 14 days (that's real days, not working days), and heaven help you if you had anything more than 28 days old.

Telephone answered, by a person, within 5 rings.

Whole case working, where any issue or enquiry would be handled by the same person from cradle to grave.

Pre-dating that, direct telephone lines to the officer dealing with your taxes. In the most extreme cases, direct access to the District Inspector.

We knew the local accountants, and they knew us (and in fact we often socialised).

HMRC is a travesty and not even fit to be a shadow of what it once was.

I remember those days well. Originally 5CI (then 384), over 14, over 28, concards, movements, PH meetings. My first DI (District Inspector) used to walk through the office every morning saying "hello" to everyone and stopping to chat briefly with staff on the shop floor. Those were the days when everything worked and worked well.

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Bee
By May bee
22nd Jun 2022 10:45

Anyone know if ACCA were asked to join the letter or have done something similar themselves?

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Replying to May bee:
Morph
By kevinringer
22nd Jun 2022 12:58

ACCA probably never replied.

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By Hugo Fair
22nd Jun 2022 10:45

And the saddest thing is that HMRC truly believes that “Overall customer satisfaction has remained above 80%” is a proud boast!

Leaving aside the dubious nature of how they arrive at that figure (see the incomplete stats that they quote - always in different units and usually without a common reference point for trend analysis) ... that means 1 in 5 people are *actively dissatisfied*.

Can you imagine how long, say, a supermarket would stay in business if the queues for complaints & refunds were in the same proportion to the check-out queues (1 person complaining for every 4 people trying to pay)?

Thanks (8)
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By Kate Cross
22nd Jun 2022 12:33

I received a 2020/21 self assessment calculation for a client last November which was a little odd as it taxed UK employment income and my client is an Australian non resident landlord in her 70s. I checked online and my clients SA record showed Eastern European first names and a Welsh address plus new phone number and e-mail address. The only thing unchanged was my client's surname of Jones.
I phoned HMRC and and advised that my client's account had been compromised. They said they would refer it and I would get confirmation of action by 9 December. Of course I didn't! I really can't remember ever getting a promised call back on a client.
After a couple more calls I finally contacted the Agent Account Manager Issue Resolution Service on 27 January. They were pretty efficient giving me regular updates that they were trying to get something done and eventually on 11 March saying that they had now been told that "as another individual was using my clients UTR they had set up a new UTR and transferred my agent details" They could have done that in November!
A few days later she was back on my client list but when I checked her account details they had used the imposter's address in Wales. Yes, they'd also sent a letter to that address giving the new UTR again compromising my client's new account. I changed the address online and finally filed my client's return then got back to the Agent Account Manager asking how someone had managed to change the account details for the original UTR in the first place and asking them to get another new UTR issued with the correct address used. They came back to me saying that the "Specialist Department" had replied "All you can advise on this is that we are trying to resolve the issue.
There is no suspicion of fraud. It is purely that we have 2 customers with very similar credentials who have been misidentified"
Similar credentials???? other than the surname Jones, the first names are completely different. One address is in Wales and the other in Western Australia!
I was completing the letting accounts earlier this month and checked her online details. She's disappeared from my client list. Have they removed me as agent? Have they closed that compromised UTR? I went back to the Agent Account Manager and got the reply "This case is already working with the SA Mixed Records Team. So no further action can be taken at present. The team deal with cases where there is confused identity or 2 x people’s tax affairs have got entangled and sadly I can’t do anything to speed up the process with no timescale to give, you may wish to make a formal complaint if not happy with the length of time it is taking to deal with your query"
I guess that's all I can do
In the last 18 months I have had to contact the Agent Account manager numerous time where HMRC just fail to answer letters, make repayments or deal with anything vaguely complicated. It even took me 8 months to get them to correct an amendment they made reducing the SEISS figure on my client's tax return. She was a victim of identity theft and had a new UTR issued so some SEISS payments were under the old UTR and some under the new one.
Being pretty ancient now (47 years in tax - yes, you get less for murder) I really haven't known the service to be so bad as it is now or for the people that you can actually deal with direct being so inadequately trained in tax and ignorant of tax legislation.

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Replying to Kate Cross:
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By Geoff56
22nd Jun 2022 12:50

Kate, how successful has been your experience of the Agent Account Manager Service?

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Replying to Geoff56:
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By Kate Cross
22nd Jun 2022 12:57

It's been pretty good, they contact the relevant people straight way and keep you informed with weekly updates. Most things that have dragged on for months are sorted out in a week or two.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Kate Cross:
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By Paul Crowley
22nd Jun 2022 13:03

HMRC are being disingenuous
I would go as far as to say the error completely HMRC involvement; or more likely some fraudulent tax refund claimed, paid and lost.

Was the Austalian address New South Wales?

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
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By Kate Cross
22nd Jun 2022 13:14

No, Western Australia. The tax calculation for the woman in Wales just showed £2950 employment income, no tax deducted and a marriage allowance transfer.
I've just got an e-mail from my client sending a copy of a form she's just received wanting details of employments for the last 2 years, address details for the last 5 years and any other names she's used. Date on HMRC letter 10 May - received today! Fairly typical HMRC overseas post system. I have a lot of non resident landlord clients and when I do an online authorisation it's hit and miss whether they get the letter within the 30 day deadline.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Kate Cross:
RLI
By lionofludesch
22nd Jun 2022 14:11

Kate Cross wrote:

No, Western Australia.

Ah - I've fond memories of Perth and the quokkas on Rottnest Island [sigh].

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Morph
By kevinringer
22nd Jun 2022 13:07

Pre-Covid HMRC Helplines operated evenings and weekends. Post-Covid they are closed evenings and weekends. That is a reduction of about 20 hours a week which is about a third of pre-Covid operating hours = 33% reduction in service levels.

Pre-Covid the ADL was answered within a minute, today it takes about 10-20 minutes, other helplines up to an hour. Some we don't even get into a queue as we are told HMRC are too busy to speak to us. I would say in terms of answering service levels today are less than 10% of pre-Covid levels.

Pre-Covid HMRC generally responding to letters within 4 weeks. Today HMRC often take 6 months and I've had cases that took a whole year. That is a reduction in service levels to about 10% of what they were in pre-Covid times.

HMRC have told me that all the staff that were employed on the helplines evenings and weekends are now dealing with other HMRC matters such as dealing with the post. That means HMRC have more staff dealing with the post today than they did pre-Covid. In which case, why are HMRC taking so much longer to deal with the post?

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By Hugo Fair
22nd Jun 2022 13:48

Because the re-allocated staff aren't primarily dealing with the new post ... they're trying to dig into the mountain that has been created since the start of covid (most of the last 6 months' post + a considerable portion of 1 year old post + enough in the 1-2 years category to 'keep them interested').

It's a bit like being in a boat that's holed at the water-line ... and, rather than trying to stem the fresh inflows, putting most staff on a roster to empty the bilges (which of course are therefore being continuously refilled)!

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RLI
By lionofludesch
22nd Jun 2022 14:02

Oh - after nearly 20 years, they've finally got round to mentioning it to the Government.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
22nd Jun 2022 14:15

Okay, yes they are useless but another country that is normally good can also have long delays.

I phoned Skatteverket in Sweden last week, they took 45 minutes to answer (at whatever rate per minute I was charged- awaiting next bill with anticipation ), the only plus points were they:

a. told me at outset waiting time and kept updating this as I sat waiting on speaker and got on with other work.
b. answered my questions (in English) re how to report a capital gain in Sweden on a property sale clearly such that even I understood.
c. were prepared to actually deal with me without my proving who I was (given generic question I guess but I did give them my person number (UTR))

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By indomitable
22nd Jun 2022 14:50

Responding to the complaints raised in the letter, an HMRC spokesperson said: “We made solid progress last year and this will carry on in 2022/23."

“Overall customer satisfaction has remained above 80%.”

You just have to laugh at the outright gall of this response. You what!! satisfaction at 80%, solid progress!!

The whole of the civil service needs a good shake up, if senior manager don't or can't change the culture and diabolical service delivery, they need to be replaced.

Government needs to get a grip! Personally I am sick and tired of sub-standard service and outcomes in many if not most public services and the civil service.

The government waste our money, ask for more and nothing changes, in fact in gets worse

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By GHarr497688
22nd Jun 2022 14:59

I have now been in Accountancy since 1979. HMRC are causing me stress and anxiety on a daily basis.
I am not "old" or "past it" or "lacking in computer skills" or anything else anyone wants to label me with. It's got so bad of late that a refuse to ring HMRC as they are either rude , won't talk to me or even put the phone down. Sometimes you get the odd decent person. When clients ring they say the same. Of late I never get a reply to any letters and nothing seems to get done unless I threaten action as a complaint or complain to my local MP. I have now had quite a few letter of apology for the terrible service encountered. When I complain it's simply to prove a point and costs me and my clients in stress and time. A few times I get a token £20 compensation payment. I think the last one was because they told me a Limited Company couldn't have any emotions and so no compensation could be paid to such an emotionless company. At the moment MTD has been delayed and changed , no one at HMRC listens to anything any one says apart from Market Research companies employed and paid for by HMRC . The software houses support HMRC as they have a vested interest to get everyone onto MTD for the sake of shareholders . Of late my Sage shares have shot up in value whilst the others have dropped significantly . Funny that with MTD becoming law. All in all with AE , AML , RTI .GDPR,DRVC,Basis period changes and now MTD becoming the "joke" of HMRC I have had as much as I can take and will be out of this game by April 2023 at the latest. If HMRC can't cope now what is going to happen when 4.2 million taxpayers have to file six times a year given that many well qualified individuals will have left the profession with an increase demand from Tax payers. HMRC will fudge the figures and say all is fine. SHOW your support if you agree this post by hitting the like button.

Thanks (22)

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