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Taxman missed 44m calls last year

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15th Jan 2010
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HMRC has been branded 'unacceptable', after it was revealed that that 43% of calls to the taxman went unanswered.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been branded 'unacceptable', after Whitehall's spending watchdog revealed that that almost half of calls to the taxman go unanswered.

The National Audit Office (NAO) indicated that of the 103 million telephone enquiries HMRC received during the 2008/2009 fiscal year, 43% - 44 million - had remained unanswered.

With 10,500 full-time staff employed across the government department’s 31 customer contact centres last year, at a cost to the country of £223 million, the NAO blasted this performance as 'unacceptable'.

While 85% of calls were dealt with in December, only about a third were picked up in July during the key tax credit renewal peak. Because overall staffing levels do not fluctuate in line with call volume, the monthly average cost per call, therefore, ranged from around £2.50 to double that.

But even if they did obtain a response, readers of accountingweb.co.uk were also unhappy with the quality of response provided by contact centre agents. One said: "The call centres are pathetic. Even when you do get through, they either don’t help you anyway or refer you to the service office, who never actually reply!"

Others have complained in the past of being called by HMRC representatives using data held by it on client files and then being asked questions about their identity for security purposes, before being permitted to continue the conversation.

But an HMRC spokesman told the BBC that the agency’s performance had improved in the first half of 2009/2010. New initiatives to improve call centre management saw the number of enquiries answered during this period rise to 73% in the first half of 2009/10. This still meant that 27% of calls failed to receive a reply, however.

The spokesman also said that HMRC was now committed to answering 90% of all calls – the industry standard – at 30% of the existing cost by March 2012.

But the department has drawn criticism over its cost-cutting plans in recent times. Its aim is to close 130 offices around the country in a move that would see 1,700 jobs being axed.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has already warned that: "Access to tax advice in business communities across the UK will be damaged by the confirmation of these closure, which will hit businesses and the public as well as taking quality jobs out of local communities during a recession."

 

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