A study by the Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG), an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), has revealed that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) continue to fail to answer telephone help lines within reasonable time scales.Back in 1997/1998 the Inland Revenue said that they aimed to answer 91% of phone calls within 30 seconds. The new study has revealed that tax payers are now waiting an average of ten times longer before calls are being answered. The Low Income Tax Reform Group conducted a mystery shopping exercise on three of HMRC’s help lines during the first week of the 2012/2013 tax year, which started on 6 April.
The mystery shopping exercise found that callers were kept on hold by HMRC for an average of thirty minutes, with some people hanging on the telephone for up to one hour.
Call routes that were taken during the mystery shopper study followed the actions of a pensioner, a PAYE caller and a tax credit claimant. The LITRG added that callers ‘can spend four times as much time pushing buttons before you even get in a queue’.
A spokesman for HMRC, said:
“HMRC handles around 60m telephone calls every year. During busy periods, there will be times when customers will find it more difficult to get through. We are working hard to improve our contact centre service levels and have made good progress. We are managing busy periods better by deploying extra people to deal with short-term increases in demand.
“We are sorry if anyone has been kept waiting, or could not get through over the last couple of days, but we are getting back on top of things.”
The mystery shopper exercise by the LITRG also indicated that a phone call lasting around thirty minutes would have cost £11.60 per call on a pay and go mobile, ‘which would equate to half a day’s income for a pensioner’.
On 17 April, HMRC posted a press release entitled ‘Contacting HMRC’ on their website. In this ‘latest news from HMRC’ they apologised to callers who had been unable to get through to their customer help lines and said that ‘extremely high levels of calls from taxpayers responding to our invitation to query the need to complete a self assessment tax return’ was to blame.
In order to deal with a higher rate of tax payer phone calls, HMRC have put the following actions in place:
Stating that ‘service is improving’ HMRC also ask in the press release if ‘taxpayers with non-urgent enquiries can defer their call until next week, when we are confident these measures will have improved things even more’.
But if 350 staff and additional managers and trainers have been moved from other areas of HMRC to focus on self-assessment help lines, surely standards in other areas of HMRC will begin to slip?
Kevin Kinsella Jnr, of KinsellaTax, said:
“What with the cutting of HMRC staff there is no wonder why there are delays occurring.
“The delays are frustrating, do not help HMRC’s case for dealing with taxpayer’s requests and quite frankly alienates the taxpayer from HMRC causing extremely low opinion polls as a result.”
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