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HMRC doubles down on agent webchat

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The tax authority has told agents it will continue to funnel less complex SA and PAYE queries to its webchat service beyond the 31‌‌‌ ‌‌January return deadline, persisting with its push away from telephone helplines and towards digital services.

30th Jan 2024
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In an email to agents, HMRC stated that its Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) webchat services would continue beyond this year’s self assessment (SA) tax return deadline, with the option to “progress chase” repayments and refunds within HMRC’s expected parameters removed with immediate effect.

Webchat for agents was initially introduced in December 2023 following an HMRC decision to screen calls to its agent helpline. In the run-up to the 31 January deadline, agent calls would only be handled if they were deemed a “priority”, with queries that didn’t make the cut directed online – a temporary move that now seems to have become more permanent.

The decision is in line with HMRC’s ambition to funnel more agent queries through digital channels to meet its target of reducing phone helpline volume by almost a third. In September 2023, HMRC wrote to agents to inform them that the ADL 10-minute call-answering target would be removed, with further restrictions placed on the helpline in place from 11 December.

Webchat remains

An HMRC spokesperson told AccountingWEB: “Following positive feedback, we are retaining [the webchat] service after 31 January to help agents with SA queries and PAYE repayment queries. While we encourage agents to use our online tools, our Agent Dedicated Line will continue to support those who need to call us with complex or urgent queries.”

The spokesperson went on to state that around 15,000 agents currently use its webchat each month, with the service handling approximately 40% of all agent SA queries. 

Agents can access the SA ADL webchat service via HMRC’s digital assistant or can continue to call the ADL.

“We understand that some agents will have complex or urgent SA queries and will need to speak to one of our advisers,” added HMRC’s email. “They can still call our ADL, selecting option 1 from the menu if needed.”

HMRC’s PAYE webchat service will also continue, focusing on repayment queries, and can be accessed through the PAYE digital assistant tool. Agents with PAYE coding queries or complex PAYE queries can also call the ADL, selecting option 2 from the menu. 

Repayment queries and progress chasing

In the same email, the Revenue added that it is also changing the way it deals with agents chasing SA, PAYE and Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) tax relief repayments on the ADL with immediate effect.

HMRC stated that from‌‌‌ ‌‌1‌‌‌ ‌‌February 2024, all agents who wish to progress chase repayment queries should consult its “Where’s my reply?” tool first before getting in touch. HMRC added a handy definition of progress chasing, which it sees as “contacting us specifically to find out when the repayment claim is likely to be processed or paid”.

“The majority of repayments are being made well within our service level agreements,” said the email. “However, more than a third of calls to the ADL are from repayment agents progress chasing an SA, PAYE or PPI tax relief repayment, often within a few weeks of the claim being submitted and sometimes in large quantities. This prevents advisers from helping agents with more complex or urgent enquiries.

“We are therefore taking steps to limit progress chasing contact where we can, while still offering an effective service to those agents who need it.”

HMRC’s “Where’s my reply?” tool gives an estimated date as to when HMRC expects to process a repayment claim. According to the Revenue’s message, if the expected date of processing shown has not passed, its advisers will be unable to help with the query. If the date has passed, agents can contact HMRC to check the status of their repayment claim.

From 1‌‌‌ ‌‌February 2024, if an agent wishes to progress chase a PAYE repayment once the date on “Where’s my reply?” has passed, this must be done using the PAYE webchat service only.

For SA repayments, if a repayment has been selected for security checks, HMRC may ask agents to wait a further 12 weeks before contacting them again to allow time for those checks to take place. 

‘Death by a thousand cuts’

Complaints about extended call-waiting times have dogged HMRC during the current tax system, with accountants venting their frustration about the insufficient support provided by the tax authority. 

In an Any Answers thread opened shortly after the webchat extension email landed in agents’ inboxes, AccountingWEB members offered their verdicts on the news.

AccountingWEB member mbee1 stated: “The first time I used it, it worked well. It was 8am in the morning and I didn’t have to wait very long.” However, they added that some staff had joined the webchat queue with more than 200 people in front of them. 

“It may well be a useful addition but it should be treated as that – an addition – and not replace traditional methods of communication such as the telephone,” they concluded.

VAT specialist Jason Croke branded the move “death by a thousand cuts” and posited that the ultimate aim may be to remove all taxpayer interactions.

31 January 2024: This article was amended to add a quote from an HMRC spokesperson

Replies (36)

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Stepurhan
By stepurhan
31st Jan 2024 08:45

“The majority of repayments are being made well within our service level agreements,” Agreement implies a discussion between two sides. Aren't HMRC's service level "agreements" all set internally.

We can limit chasing repayments because we are meeting a target we set is a completely unreasonable position to take.

Thanks (7)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
31st Jan 2024 09:18

I imagine the phone lines will be completely gone inside of 4 or 5 years. Perhaps quicker.

Thanks (5)
By SteveHa
31st Jan 2024 09:53

"“However, more than a third of calls to the ADL are from repayment agents progress chasing an SA, PAYE or PPI tax relief repayment, often within a few weeks of the claim being submitted"

and

"For SA repayments, if a repayment has been selected for security checks, HMRC may ask agents to wait a further 12 weeks before contacting us again to allow time for those checks to take place."

Are why agents need to SPEAK to HMRC. "A few weeks" and "A further 12 weeks" are unacceptable. Especially when HMRC still demand a reply to their letters within 30 days.

A complete and utter shambles.

Thanks (8)
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By Tom+Cross
31st Jan 2024 11:17

Textbook Gaslighting. On a daily basis.
(with thanks to Kaye Adams, who was a direct victim)

One wonders why we bother to question this shower. The comments fall on deaf ears and there's an arrogant assumption that their systems are all working perfectly. Heaven knows how this lot sleep.

Thanks (6)
Replying to Tom+Cross:
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By PAULLEWISFCCA
01st Feb 2024 10:05

Tom+Cross wrote:

Heaven knows how this lot sleep.

i think they are more active at night

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
31st Jan 2024 12:09

Can I ask an innocent question... what 'ADL 10-minute call-answering target'?

Let me guess.. a target that was achieved in the good old days of actually being able to speak to a human being.. say 1970's?

But on a positive side....I have clients who have been waiting over a year for their refund - now instead of steeling myself to phone I'll be able to 'chat' every day .. maybe that way I'll get an answer.

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By Hometing
31st Jan 2024 13:11

1. Spend half an hour waiting on webchat queue
2. Get through to adviser and tell them you are an agent
3. Adviser unable to help as not experienced enough to deal with agents (but happy to fob off average Joe with bad advice)
4. Transfers to another queue to deal with agents

This is a ridiculous system. Set one up just for agents and stop fobbing us off.

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By tedbuck
31st Jan 2024 16:16

Just been speaking to a client who has, for the last week, been trying to speak to HMRC to arrange a payment plan. Phones just not being answered. Then I read in the Newspaper that HMRC is cutting 1100 jobs.

I just cannot believe that the people running HMRC can be so completely and utterly stupid. If I didn't see it actually happening I would think it was a joke. But what a joke! The NHS is broken and incompetent, HMRC is broken and incompetent and HMG isn't far behind.

It isn't the fault of the nurses and the ground staff at HMRC it is the fault of the management.

Lack of training
Lack of on the job management
Too much box ticking and not enough common sense in play
It wouldn't be hard to do better but they just don't care

The whole of government is a pig's breakfast with money being wasted wherever you look. What on earth can we do about it? I really do despair.

Thanks (17)
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By FactChecker
31st Jan 2024 16:28

C'mon Tom, wake that latent investigative journalist lurking beneath the surface ... tackle HMRC with requests for clarification - such as:

"Feedback has told us that this has been a useful addition to our service"
Who is this Feedback person?
Or, more seriously, where's the data to support that assertion?

"Around 15,000 agents each month have been using our webchat services"
A figure for 'each month' when the service has been available for less than 2 months?
And is that 15,000 different agents (as opposed to 15,000 attempts by far fewer agents)?

"our digital assistant .. is currently dealing with around 40% of all SA queries without the need to transfer to a colleague"
Is that '40% of all SA queries' - or 40% of SA queries from Agents (the latter seeming unlikely)?
Are there any stats on what the majority (60%) do next in order to try getting an answer?

Plus, how do they feel/justify these new 'policies' with regard to their Customer Charter?
In the inimitable summary by Jason: "How quickly the mighty HMRC has fallen from the dizzy heights of the customer charter to demanding money with menaces"!

Thanks (10)
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By Karen whitehead
31st Jan 2024 19:11

I have no objections to using the web chat if it works. Unfortunately it is rubbish. It doesn't understand the questions you are asking and refers you to information which has no relevance. If you continually write the word "agent" in the chat box then 9 times out of 10 it tells you there is no one available. When there is someone available they are very hot and miss. If you tell them they are wrong they simply repeat the same thing over and over. So you have to end the chat and try again hoping to get an agent that knows what they are doing.

Thanks (6)
Replying to Karen whitehead:
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By adjadj
01st Feb 2024 23:29

"they are very hot and miss" Sounds fun - tell me more - what's the number to call?

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By PAULLEWISFCCA
01st Feb 2024 10:03

starve the beast

Thanks (1)
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By johnjenkins
01st Feb 2024 10:25

When you see films of the future, you think, no that can't happen, we're too intelligent. This reliance solely on high tech and AI will be the downfall predicted in a lot of films. I actually pity the next Government cos they going get a lot of stick.

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David Ross
By davidross
01st Feb 2024 10:31

I once heard a talk by a spivy small airline operator who boasted of "variable configuration and 100% load factor". In my vote of thanks I said "so you remove some seats so that you can say the plane is full" - he had to agree (he also boasted of being "highly geared" and was soon out of business, but that may have something to do with offering flights from Bournemouth to Bristol)

HMRC will deal with their problem of response times by removing facilities, then boasting of high efficiency levels.

Thanks (3)
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By paulwakefield1
01st Feb 2024 10:37

" When there is someone available they are very hot and miss. "

I love a good typo and I have to say, for some reason, this one really made me chuckle.

Thanks (2)
By Duggimon
01st Feb 2024 10:58

I'm going to dissent with the majority here and say webchat is the one and only decent addition HMRC have made to their services in the last five years or more.

1: No hold music
2: Automatic availability of the text of the entire conversation
3: No babies/dogs/noisy call centres in the background
4: can pre-prepare what you want to say to copy and paste and save time on the chat
5: Once you get on to the agent one the people on the other end seem to have the same level of access as the phone folk with the added benefit of not having to listen to them apologise for their computer slowing down, put you back on hold etc, you can just wait for them to do their bit.

Presumably since it's working quite well they will continue improving it slightly and then replace it entirely with something that almost but not quite fails at doing everything the old system does, no doubt with chatGPT 3.5 or something.

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By Retrocanary
01st Feb 2024 11:04

So, in a a nutshell, they've got your money, they're going to hang on to it indefinitely and there's nothing you can do about it.

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By Retrocanary
01st Feb 2024 11:04

So, in a a nutshell, they've got your money, they're going to hang on to it indefinitely and there's nothing you can do about it.

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By euanjohn
01st Feb 2024 11:17

Re Paul Wakefield's comment: Actually it wasn't a typo. HMRC staff are "working from home" under their duvets. So they are very hot and comfortable on these cold mornings, thank you very much, and certainly can't be bothered to do anything so mundane as answer their phones.

Thanks (1)
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By Kathryn15
01st Feb 2024 11:20

We tried to use the webchat facility for the first time today and just got a message saying that due to technical issues they were unable to deal with it right now and to try again later. We are now trying to get through on the phone and expect a long wait. We are not chasing repayments, just trying to let HMRC know about dividend income of taxpayers who are not required to complete tax returns and are not prepared to interact with their Personal Tax Accounts. It's almost like HMRC don't want these people to pay the correct amount of tax!!!

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Replying to Kathryn15:
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By Kathryn15
01st Feb 2024 13:46

Update... after almost an hour on hold my assistant spoke to someone at HMRC who was very helpful and managed to update the figures for three of our clients. Interestingly, she told my assistant that she was trying to get back into the way of the phoneline as she had been working on the webchat until recently. She said it is rubbish!

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By moneymanager
01st Feb 2024 11:36

Walks into local Inland Revenue office, no appointment, states purpose of call and MY case handler appears minutes later, my files extracted, corrections agreed job done in thirty minutes. Oh halcyon days.

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Replying to moneymanager:
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By johnjenkins
01st Feb 2024 11:44

"Halcyon Days" isn't that company that supplies luxury goods to the royals etc?
Problem with limited company cis, phoned regional office, sorted in 5 minutes. I shudder to think how long chat box would take to even understand the question.

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Replying to moneymanager:
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By johnjenkins
01st Feb 2024 11:46

If I remember correctly there didn't seem that many problems in the "halcyon days". What has happened? Oh yes HMRC want more money and to destroy the small business.

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By Rob Swan
01st Feb 2024 12:03

Love to know where all that 'positive feedback' came from.

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By johnjenkins
01st Feb 2024 12:24

The nine people who originally signed up for MTD pilot.

Thanks (5)
Replying to johnjenkins:
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
01st Feb 2024 13:18

Jim Harra and eight other HMRC senior employees

Thanks (5)
Replying to johnjenkins:
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By Rob Swan
01st Feb 2024 14:00

'MTD Pilot' - no doubt flying a 737 Max-zero with all the doors loose.
Sorry, just couldn't help it. I'll see myself out.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Rob Swan:
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By paulwakefield1
01st Feb 2024 14:23

Rob Swan wrote:

'MTD Pilot' - no doubt flying a 737 Max-zero with all the doors loose.
Sorry, just couldn't help it. I'll see myself out.

Don't do it. You're at 16,000 ft. Eek!

Thanks (1)
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
01st Feb 2024 13:22

Used webchat on Tuesday, got a very arrogant agent who didn't understand the issue (possible duplicated FPS), and wouldn't even take the client's PAYE details so that she could tell me what HMRC had on their system. Just kept telling me that the employees (all 40 of them) would need to phone HMRC.

Phoned instead, got through to a lovely Scottish chap who was willing to help.

Shame, as I usually much prefer webchat (as you can actually do proper work while waiting)

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Replying to Beach Accountancy:
By Silver Birch Accts
01st Feb 2024 15:24

Web chat is a computer, it says so.

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Replying to Silver Birch Accts:
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
01st Feb 2024 16:40

No, not even ChatGPT could be that useless!

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Replying to Beach Accountancy:
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By Rob Swan
01st Feb 2024 20:23

HMRC can be that rubbish, and it's proving so well.
HMRC: The 'RC' might be 'Rubbish Chatbot', although I'm loathed to associate His Majesty with it in any way.

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By Mr J Andrews
01st Feb 2024 15:14

''......We encourage Agents to use our online tools..........''
Blunt instruments sharpened with rusty whetstones.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
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By Rob Swan
01st Feb 2024 20:24

Made me laugh ;D

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By Helpful Harry
01st Feb 2024 17:51

Agree with Tedbuck. Client’s been trying since mid-December to contact HMRC about payment plan. The line says something similar to ….Sorry we are currently experiencing high level of calls, please try again later. Then it hangs up.
Client works all day, 5 days a week, cannot afford hours at a time to be on hold if they could get through anyway! We’re hoping that maybe digital assistant may help.

Then again, different client, HMRC have written to us and supplied a direct line number. We’ve called, it has an old sounding covid message. We’ve left messages (plural) asking for call back but, have heard nothing. We tried digital assistant, transferred to human adviser, asked if they could get message to letters author or better still, answer our question. Advisor exited chat.
The Where’s My Reply tool won’t help either of the situations above. Only a decent HMRC phone service can assist.
PS. We’ve resorted to snail mail for the 2nd situation. (Signed for service, of course.)

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