Queue time for UK tax helplines now worse than in pandemic

The waiting times for government tax helplines have worsened compared to the pandemic, as HM Revenue and Customs is now limiting access for millions of taxpayers.

According to accountants, callers may experience wait times of up to 60 minutes before their call is answered. There have also been reports of calls being disconnected before being answered. Recent statistics show that the average wait time for a call to be answered in October was nearly 24 minutes, a significant increase from the previous year’s average of less than 10 minutes.

The HMRC has reported a rise in demand and encourages taxpayers to utilize its online services, which are efficient and easy to use. However, the service received backlash last week for limiting its self-assessment helpline to “priority” calls and directing most callers to its online services.

The limitations will remain effective until January 31st, which is the final date for completing an electronic tax submission. HMRC received 38 million phone calls in the fiscal year 2022/23 and also received 16 million pieces of communication that needed a reply.

According to a report released by the Commons public accounts committee in January, the number of HMRC customer service employees decreased from 25,500 to 19,500 in the span of five years. The report cautioned that the current level of customer service was inadequate.

According to the ACCA, the HMRC limitations will affect individuals who must file a self-assessment for the first time due to static thresholds and increasing incomes. Approximately 5.5 million individuals use the self-assessment helpline annually.

According to Glenn Collins, the head of policy, technical, and strategic engagement at ACCA, the significant decrease in services will be a concern for both taxpayers and financial experts. This decision by HMRC further highlights their insufficient resources, which are urgently required.

“We have received reports of individuals waiting for nearly an hour for their calls to be answered. Additionally, there have been instances of calls being disconnected before being resolved. This system is reaching its breaking point.”

Last week, Harriett Baldwin, who heads the Treasury committee in the House of Commons, sent a letter to HMRC expressing worries about their service quality. HMRC had previously shut down their self-assessment helpline from June 12th to September 4th of this year and instructed callers to use their online services instead.

In her correspondence to Jim Harra, the CEO and first permanent secretary at HMRC, Baldwin expressed concern over the sudden limitation of access to the helpline, which was only announced on December 7. She questioned why taxpayers were not given more advance notice.

She has also requested information on how HMRC monitors to prevent people from being denied services.

According to tax professionals, they are worried about the inadequate capabilities of digital services in assisting taxpayers. However, HMRC asserts that a large number of taxpayers currently file their taxes electronically and 83% of them are content with the process.

Kelly Sizer, a senior manager at the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, stated that the group does not necessarily oppose the use of digital services, but they believe that HMRC is implementing them at a rapid pace.

Sizer stated that the self-assessment helpline was shut down during the summer and now access is being limited during this busy time.

HMRC believes that individuals are able to complete all tasks online, therefore making phone calls unnecessary. However, some individuals simply seek reassurance that they are taking the correct actions.

Senga Prior, the head of the technical steering group for the Association of Taxation Technicians, stated that there is a growing emphasis on using digital tools for taxpayers and limited avenues for direct communication with HMRC representatives.

“Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to keep up with this journey. Furthermore, the resources accessible to taxpayers and professional advisors through digital means are frequently lacking, disconnected, and inadequately constructed.”

According to HMRC, utilizing their online service more frequently will result in cost savings and allow their specialized advisors to focus on assisting those who truly require their aid. The organization is shifting towards prioritizing digital methods and their HMRC app is currently being utilized by over one million individuals monthly.

Source: theguardian.com