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HMRC webchat support services paused from January to April 2021

HMRC ‘pauses’ webchat support for three months

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Just before Christmas, HMRC informed agents that it's taking most of its webchat support services offline for three months from 4 January.

5th Jan 2022
Editor at large AccountingWEB
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In a note quoted by the ATT, the tax department wrote: “We are pausing most of our webchat for three months from Tuesday 4 January 2022. We’ll use this pause to fully review our services to make sure we are helping our customers in the most effective way possible.”

The email explained that webchat was effective for simple queries, but “supporting customers with complex queries has proven to be inefficient”. According to HMRC’s analysis, PAYE coding queries took 84% longer to resolve via webchat than over the phone. Child benefit payment queries and VAT registrations took 50% longer.  

While it might seem inconsiderate to remove any kind of support mechanism just as the 31 January self assessment filing deadline nears, tax agents and AccountingWEB members tended to agree with HMRC’s analysis.

In an Any Answers thread bemoaning HMRC doublespeak in which Hugo Fair noted the softened tone of “pausing” rather than suspending the service, Homeworker commented that in their experience the HMRC chatbot was a complete waste of time: “I think a robot was answering, as they did not understand the question, despite my rewording it three times!”

Not all HMRC chat services have been suspended, however. The self assessment digital assistant remains live, with HMRC Twitter support workers directing taxpayers to that page. Unfortunately it, too, appears to have a limited grasp of the issues involved:

HMRC self assessment digital assistant (2021)

While the 24-hour self assessment digital assistant is limited in what it can do, typing “adviser” into the chat box will transfer the user to a human adviser between 8am and 7:30pm (Monday-Saturday). This feature has proved useful for accountants including Clare Beazley: “I have used webchat several times (Corporation Tax, PAYE and IHT) and found it to be the quickest way to get something resolved, once you can actually contact an adviser.”

Fellow AccountingWEB member Latinaid commented on how difficult it was to get through to an adviser, but suggested entering the request as the clock ticks over from 07:59 to 08:00. “Even then you have to be quick, but if you do get an agent, I’ve found them knowledgeable, and they are generally able to action things straight away. Much better than hanging on the phone for hours and then getting someone who doesn’t understand the question.”

Agent dashboard

As part of HMRC’s customer service review the digital team is working on a new tax agent dashboard to present a high-level service status overview.

The ATT noted: “We welcome the promise of the new dashboard and hope that it will enable agents to have a better oversight of the processing times for a number of key services and will share further information with members in the New Year.

“While we acknowledge that a dashboard in and of itself doesn’t address performance problems, we hope that this increased transparency will enable agents to manage client expectations during the period while HMRC undertakes their recovery work.”

Replies (22)

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By GHarr497688
05th Jan 2022 16:08

OK, so HMRC now acknowledge that computer technology can take up more time than human interaction and also automating information leads to wrongs answers as evidenced in the above article. However with MTD they are saying that automation will reduce the risk of error and create a huge time saving for "customers" and HMRC alike.
I am very sorry but that does not make any sense to a reasonably intelligent person.Computers are useless unless the information is checked and the programme is tested before it gives the evidence , the user also has to be competent in what information is to be entered and what the result will be. No matter if it's web chat, MTD , Real Time , Auto-enrolment anything etc the same rules apply. Ive just spent hours trying to renew my AML just because someone didn't click a button at the right time on a computer. This madness must stop.

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Replying to GHarr497688:
By Duggimon
06th Jan 2022 09:50

You really will bend anything that mentions computers into another excuse to trot out your MTD hyperbola again.

I don't necessarily disagree with anything other than the tone of your post but it is entirely irrelevant past the first sentence.

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By Hugo Fair
06th Jan 2022 12:37

Fair point, but ...
"supporting customers with complex queries has proven to be inefficient" and then "PAYE coding queries took 84% longer to resolve via webchat than over the phone".

I'd hardly categorise PAYE coding queries as typically the most complex of queries to raise with HMRC - not as an Agent anyway. So they're not counting the 'chats' that remain unresolved at the end of the 'session' presumably (which is an old trick in the lexicon of HMRC's statistical analysis of their own performance).

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Replying to Duggimon:
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By GHarr497688
06th Jan 2022 13:00

If you don't like my posts don't read them. It's that simple. Incase you didn't know my profile name shows first so when you see them just move on as you are really boring me now.

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By Mr Hankey
06th Jan 2022 09:12

Machine technology and artificial intelligence is a good idea in principle, but when it's nowhere near good enough, then it just creates so much annoyance and time wasting.

On a call to my energy supplier this week:
Machine voice: Please tell me in a few words, what's the reason for your call?
Me: I want to know why nobody has turned up to install my smart meter.
Machine voice: Ok, you want to update your address, is that right?
Me: No!
Machine voice: You'll find lots of helpful information on our website.
Me: I've been to your website and there is no section explaining why you haven't turned up.
Machine voice: Ok, you want to update your address, is that right?

Aaarrgghhhh!!!!!

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By norstar
06th Jan 2022 09:18

Saying that webchat takes 84% longer than dealing with the enquiry over the phone rather supposes you can get through to them on the phone in the first place...

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Replying to norstar:
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By Paul Crowley
06th Jan 2022 12:28

HMRC only consider HMRC time

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By anthony stevens
06th Jan 2022 09:18

I do wish they would pause MTD forever!

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Replying to anthony stevens:
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By johnjenkins
06th Jan 2022 09:43

I don't think you are too far off with your wishes. I've heard a little whisper that MTD for VAT will be postponed until April 2023. Given this 3 month "pause", seems quite likely. Unless, of course, all resources are being made available to make sure that MTD for VAT will go "live" in April, but then have they got the competent staff to do that?

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By 1 2
06th Jan 2022 09:40

This sucks, webchat's been great for us!

Is it actually computers replying? I don't get that impression...surely it's humans working for HMRC. Yes it may sometimes be slightly slow. I always assumed that was because the HMRC adviser likely had a few webchats going on with different customers at the same time. This wasn't a huge problem, as we could typically do other things whilst waiting for them, checking back in periodically. Ok you can sort of do that with a phone call to HMRC, but more painfully.

It's also nice to have something written to save on our files. Otherwise you're relying on a staff member to make a call, write up notes during/afterwards, and of course the risk that HMRC later argue our notes of the call don't tally with theirs.

Webchat FTW!

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By markabacus
06th Jan 2022 09:52

Texting, WhatsApp, Signal, Email etc all have their place but for discussions, 'death by keyboard', this is when you need to speak to the person, shock, horror.... which is what HMRC have discovered

That said rang the agent line yesterday, 10+ mins to answer it then the person was very curt, no good morning, no name, more a case of what do you want

Must be due to Covid, isn't everything

Rant over, back to tax rtns LOL

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By Duggimon
06th Jan 2022 09:54

Webchat takes 84% longer because the agents are dealing with multiple webchats at once. At least I presume they are because that's the only way to efficiently use it at their end, otherwise you have agents doing nothing while waiting for a response.

From my point of view I prefer it, even if it takes longer than a call (which is only true if you don't include the call waiting times, webchat is much faster if you factor in the half an hour on hold) it's much easier for me to keep working while talking to an agent.

I've never had much experience with the AI bots, generally once you convey to them they are not helping you are connected to a human.

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By sammerchant
06th Jan 2022 10:03

If we are customers, this is a helluva way to run a business!

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By Mr J Andrews
06th Jan 2022 10:10

Nothing new here. A quarter of a year is about the norm for expecting any sort of response from this failing Govt. Dept.
Full marks to whoever came up with the spin on ''pausing'' and the purpose of the ''pause''
.........''to help our customers in the most effective way possible........'' But such oxymoronic trite.
I suspect the ''pause'' may be down to the fact that HMRC have suddenly realised that time and time again they rush headlong like lemmings into ideas, without seeing the full picture, practicalities - and thoughtless stupidity - and now maybe it's time to attempt generally to catch up on their shortcomings. Inefficient Webchat being the tip of the iceberg.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
06th Jan 2022 12:26

Hugo Fair was the AccountingWEB member who picked up on HMRC's latest linguistic contortions.

Hugo's post was the first to alert us to the webchat "pause", but his thoughts on Treasury minister Lucy Frazier's letter to the Office of Tax Simplification are well worth reading too. You'll find the whole thread here: https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/any-answers/hmrc-finally-ahead-of-schedule

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Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
06th Jan 2022 10:44

I prefer the webchats too. You can prepare your query beforehand (e.g. dates and amounts) and then paste it into the text box. Good for simple queries like reallocation of PAYE payments.
Also you don't have to listen to the b**** awful hold music and patronising messages about how much information there is on the website.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
06th Jan 2022 11:51

Imagine for just one second....

Someone at HMRC had to continually have a screen open, just to wait until the words "Advisor is Available" pop up, followed by a frantic rush to open a chat window.

If you ever wanted a clear example of how disengaged HMRC is with Accountants then this is it.

They find it takes THEM longer, I've had a VAT Web Chat open ALL day occupying a screen (this was few months back), the advisor option never popped up whilst I was at the screen for 2 days in a row.

They then (when I was graced with a place in a queue) couldn't help me with my query (you have to laugh) if they want to look at time being wasted, make the powers at be sit in an Accountancy firm for a week, then record how much time is wasted trying to contact this bunch of incompetent imbeciles.

Agents (although the ASA account for VAT is now starting to show payments / balances, yippee) are continuously an afterthought, maybe they will realise in their continued drive to speak directly to tax payers that we as agents absorb a lot of the time wasting and inefficiency in the pursuit of providing them with useable accurate information.

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By tedbuck
06th Jan 2022 12:15

Whichever way you look at it, it seems the answer to the problems we all experience is more trained HMRC staff who know what they are talking about and less computers which, at best, can really only re-direct you to a human of whom there are too few who can help.

I go back a long time in this game and I can remember when the Inland Revenue was an effective organisation staffed with people who knew what they were talking about and who were keen to help the taxpayer do things properly.

A lot has changed since then and apart from the ease of submitting things online most of the changes haven't been beneficial to either them or us. Certainly communication has suffered drastically and, I suspect, so has the ability of HMRC to check what is submitted to them. Computers make this worse not better but HMRC just won't see it, probably because they suspect their own fallibility in terms of trained staff available to do the checking.

A bit of a re-think needed at HMRC but I can't see that happening until it all falls flat on its face. I give it 5 years at most - any takers? Perhaps we ought to run a sweepstake?

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Replying to tedbuck:
By Duggimon
10th Jan 2022 10:40

tedbuck wrote:

Whichever way you look at it, it seems the answer to the problems we all experience is more trained HMRC staff who know what they are talking about and less computers which, at best, can really only re-direct you to a human of whom there are too few who can help.

You maybe have a skewed perception of what computers can or can't do. What if 90% of all contacts are for things that a computer can either answer or that can't be answered over webchat whether it's a computer or a human on the end? Then it's a very obvious benefit to efficiency to have automated responses first and humans second and you only think it's a frustrating annoyance because you are enlightened enough to avoid trying to use it for any of those 90% issues and so always need to speak to a human when using it.

Alas, the world is too full of stupid people who rather than noting down their UTR somewhere or googling how to pay their tax will just use webchat because "that's what it's for", ruining a potentially useful service for the people to whom it is useful.

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By Paul Crowley
06th Jan 2022 12:26

This really ought to be listed as Tax or Practice
Tech pulse not a category I bother with

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By accountaholic
06th Jan 2022 13:17

I really think they need to consider if it is acceptable to treat accountants and agents in such a patronising way. Most of us will do on-line whatever is possible online - it's usually quick, efficient for them and us, and accurate (or as accurate as our own input is). When you reach a dead end why then do you have to listen to two minutes of waffle and "did you know you can get lots of useful stuff on our website..". They should recognise that by the time we lift the phone, website options have been exhausted, just put us in the queue to speak to a human.

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Replying to accountaholic:
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By johnjenkins
06th Jan 2022 13:24

That's what the "dedicated" phone line was for. It would appear that Covid has completely trashed an already depleted HMRC, perhaps that's why Rishi is asking for "shortcuts"

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