“Callers to a [HMRC’s] tax helpline were kept on hold so long, [hold music] became the UK’s second most streamed piece of music in 2015-16”, the Sun’s headline reported this morning.
It emerged yesterday that UK taxpayers spent over 4 million hours on the phone waiting for an answer. The Daily Telegraph added that a National Audit Office report last month found one in five callers last year – 4.2 million people – hung up after waiting on the line for an average of 16 minutes each. Some had to wait up to an hour for an answer.
In addition to these worrying statistics the Sun also reported that bosses sacked 5,500 officials and then had to recruit 2,400 inexperienced call handlers, which added to the growing problem, as well as indicating a degree of poor planning.
Jon Thompson, the new chief executive of HMRC said that the service for taxpayers had been “unacceptable”, and Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general for customer service, insisted: “we have learned from what went wrong last year and we have put in place a number of monitoring systems to deal with increases in calls”.
What they forget is that perhaps the easiest way to reduce pressure on HMRC’s customer service department would be to simplify the tax system so that taxpayers don’t require additional support from the helpline.
HMRC has also begun sending “thank you” letters to members of the public who pay their taxes on time – a rather wasteful and slightly patronising decision.
The reported figures certainly make it easy to point the finger at HMRC, but in fact the major “villains” are the politicians who refuse to reform our overcomplicated tax system, which HMRC are struggling to administer.
Our view is that instead of constant fiddling in every new Budget, the Chancellor needs to radically simplify the tax system to help avoid the problems reported today.
In 2012 we have published a comprehensive report presenting our view of a simpler and more efficient tax system, which we are convinced would significantly reduce current burden on the UK taxpayers.