HMRC customer service levels at ‘all-time-low’, MPs warn

Report blames “conscious choices made by HMRC and HM Treasury” as call wait times jump up
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By Tevye Markson

28 Feb 2024

MPs have raised alarm bells over customer service levels at HM Revenue and Customs, warning they have reached an “all-time low”.

A Public Accounts Committee report on HMRC performance in 2022-23, published this morning, says that the committee has received an “unprecedented number of written submissions about HMRC’s performance, demonstrating the extent of taxpayers’ exasperation over the quality of services and the impact on business”.

HMRC’s customer service performance has since “continued to deteriorate, particularly for telephony services”, the report says, blaming “conscious choices made by HMRC and HM Treasury”.

It argues that the Treasury has not given HMRC enough resources “to meet the service standards that customers expect”. And it says HMRC is “too keen to point to the long road to digitisation as an excuse for poor services to customers now”.

In 2022-23, 62.7% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser, up from 46.3% in 2021-22, it found. Meanwhile, demand for HMRC’s phone and post services is increasing by more than 10% a year, due to increases in the number of people paying tax and the complexity of their tax affairs.

Instead of boosting customer services to meet the increased demand, HMRC is asking callers to use digital services where they are available, and has closed or scaled back services, including shutting its income tax self-assessment helpline over the summer and limiting it to high-priority callers earlier this year. It has also closed down its VAT registration line.

HMRC has insisted it has good-quality digital services for customers to manage their taxes. In December, its chief executive Jim Harra said: “With satisfaction rates of above 80%, our online services are our best kept secret – too many people still don’t realise they can resolve their queries quickly on or the HMRC app, at a time that is convenient to them.”

But PAC said “this is not the experience shared by the taxpayers and their agents that got in touch with us”.

Commenting on the report, PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier, said: “Almost eight years have passed since our committee challenged HMRC over its telephone lines’ holding message being one of the most streamed pieces of music in the country. Our latest report into its performance sadly illustrates a continued tale of decline in its services.”

The committee has asked the tax agency and the Treasury to “ensure HMRC’s customer services are sufficiently resourced in the short as well as the longer term so that it can meet its service standards until its digital services adequately address the needs of taxpayers and their agents”.

"It is important that taxpayers can contact HMRC if they feel they are treated unfairly. HMRC must ensure it maintains sufficient accessibility in the system for people to raise concerns and have these dealt with in a timely manner," the MPs said.

HMRC recently agreed to ensure it improves its digital tools before enacting a "digital-by-default" approach to its tax services, which would permit the department to deal with service users entirely digitally unless they expressly asked for paper correspondence. However, it also it also rejected calls from PAC to take a more customer-focused approach to digitalising the tax system.

A HMRC spokesperson said: “We’re making strong progress improving our customer services, with a focus on encouraging people to deal with us online where they can, by providing quicker, easier and always available digital services.

“Millions more people used our highly-rated online services last year – saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisors to deal with those people who need extra support.

“People used our app and online services more than 200 million times last year with an 80% satisfaction rate, while three quarters of all customer correspondence was answered in 15 working days –  a significant improvement on the 45% in 2021-22.”

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