Hello: Will somebody answer the phone?
Dec 2012 19

The fact that taxpayers are facing a bill of £126 million a year because of the inability of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials to answer the phone is totally ludicrous.

Last year a staggering 20 million calls to HMRC’s phone line went unanswered. People who did manage to get through on average had to wait five minutes to speak to someone, with some 6.5 million callers being made to wait an extraordinary ten minutes or more.

The National Audit Office (NAO), which discovered the shocking statistics, also found that HMRC compares unfavourably to the tax offices of other developed countries, finding that HMRC answered its phones slower than any of the other seven agencies it was assessed against. For example, Canada’s Revenue Agency managed to answer 80% of calls in 2 minutes while in the UK just 46% are answered that quickly.

Margaret Hodge, Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, stated that it was ‘totally unacceptable’ that HMRC uses expensive 0845 numbers to profit while the taxpayer waits. She attacked the call answering targets the organisation has set for itself as ‘far too soft and way below industry standards’, pointing out that HMRC has set itself the dismal target of answering just 58% of calls.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Sinclair said: “This NAO report exposes a shameful level of service at HMRC. It’s no wonder people have to call the revenue so often, given that – at 17,000 pages – our tax code is one of the longest and most complicated in the world. It is high time that politicians acted to simplify the tax system and make it far less burdensome.’

As the NAO’s report observes, getting in touch with HMRC isn’t an option, it is something that taxpayers have to do. As such, it is ridiculous that we are being provided such a shoddy service.

  • questioner

    It’s actually worse than this. I had a problem with them last year – I’d made a mistake in self assessment which left me with a £12k bill which I shouldn’t have had. So all I wanted to do was speak to somebody, get it sorted out. It took weeks of phone calls, hours on hold or speaking to clueless and unhelpful individuals. Meanwhile they helpfully sent me a distraining order, so I had to explain to the kids that bailiffs might arrive while I’m out at work and not to be upset.
    This is a seriously disfunctional organisation.

  • blarg1987

    Is this an admission that the TPA would advocate tax payers money to be spent on hiring more staff to deal with tax enquiries?

    • orac54

      No, it’s a plea to simplify the system, get some decent private sector management in there, and sort it out, because we pay plenty for it already.

      They came after me last year, saying I owed them £600 because I hadn’t filled in some details from my P11D on my return. But I had, and by the time I got them to admit it was their error, they were saying I owed them £50 in interest on top of the £600. Their stance was that I had to beg them to be let off the £50. There was no hint of an apology for the error.

      • blarg1987

        I think you will find one of the things that would happen is that it would be put on a premium pay telephone number as is the major practice in alot of large firms.

        • MrVeryAngry

          ..and pornographers….

      • MrVeryAngry

        Yes, but can’t do the ‘private sector management’ bit. It’s just not possible. For public safety the HMRC has to be a politically accountable bureaucracy. If you put private sector managers in they just become bureaucrats.

  • Net Contributor

    If the tax system wasn’t so ridculously complicated, hardly anyone would need to call them, most of the staff could be let go, and savings would be enormous.

    • blarg1987

      But then again tax specilists would not be necessary so we would hit alot of people in the private sector also.

      • MrVeryAngry

        That really is the most bizarre justification for tax complexity, unless you are being ironic?

    • MrVeryAngry

      Yep. By way of massive simplification you could collect all the tax you need with 20% of the current HMRC staff. As that can be done it means that 80% of HMRC are already redundant – they are on benefits.

  • MrVeryAngry

    HMRC is NOT a ‘service’ at all. It’s a tax gatherer that can ultimately resort to coercion and violence.

  • http://www.customerserviceguru.co.uk/ Sophia Wright

    5-10 minutes!? Are joking? I wish that was how long the wait was! I rang the HMRC Contact number (that I found here: http://www.customerserviceguru.co.uk/hmrc-contact/ ) and was on hold for more like 40 minutes!