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'Disgraceful' service: Why a call to HMRC is a taxing time for customers

19th Mar 2013
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Left feeling frustrated from expensive and long call waiting times when trying to contact the taxman? Well, you’re not alone.

A committee of MPs has found that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is costing callers £136m a year due to lengthy delays in answering calls, despite ploughing a whopping £900m into improving its customer service operations.

The report also showed that HMRC failed to answer 20m calls last year and was even unable to cope with the traditional customer service channels. The department responded to 66% of letters – failing to hit its target to respond to 80% of letters within 15 days.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “HMRC's 'customers' have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department. It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter.”

And the future’s not looking any brighter. The committee added that there was a “real risk” of things worsening in light of the plans to close 281 tax inquiry centres, which the committee believes will  leave 16m people still waiting more than five minutes.

However, Hodge did welcome HRMC’s forthcoming plans to lower its use of 0845 numbers and introduce a call-back system.

“We are pleased to see signs that HMRC is changing its attitude. Officials are beginning to realise that good customer service lies at the heart of any strategy to maximise revenues while cutting costs.

“However, HMRC's new target of answering 80 per cent of calls within five minutes is woefully inadequate and unambitious.”

An HMRC spokesperson said: “In the past three months, HMRC has been answering more than 90 per cent of calls to our contact centres and during the current year we have replied to 84.5% of the 16 million pieces of post we have received within 15 working days.”

HMRC has been blasted many times over the years for delivering below average customer service. For instance, in 2010, the government department was branded 'unacceptable'after it was revealed that that 43% of calls to the taxman went unanswered.


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