Parliament’s Treasury Committee has demanded answers after HM Revenue and Customs suspended most of its helpline services on Friday.
HMRC first said it had decided to shut “a number” of its phone lines and online services in a since-deleted tweet at 5.30pm on Thursday, 1 December.
A day later, the tax agency tweeted that it had closed all of its phone lines apart from the National Clearance Hub helpline – which handles enquiries about the movement and processing of goods coming into, out of, or through the UK – due to “technical issues”.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience and are working urgently to resolve this issue,” the department said in a tweet at 4.50pm on Friday.
HMRC runs several phone lines that people can contact with questions about different types of tax or services. Its helpline page lists the numbers people can contact with queries on more than 100 issues, including employers’ national minimum wage enquiries and complaints; HMRC’s Help to Save service; landfill tax; and money laundering.
All of them stayed closed over the weekend, with the exception of the clearance hub line, and the Customs and International Trade line.
Some online services were also initially affected by the outage – although a service update on Saturday said online services were “available and working well”.
Phone lines were reinstated this morning.
Treasury committee chair Harriet Baldwin has asked HMRC’s permanent secretary, Jim Harra, to explain the cause of the service failure and any mitigations “as soon as practicable”.
“It is of serious concern that taxpayers are apparently currently unable to reach HMRC by telephone, or potentially online,” she said.
She has asked the perm sec to list the affected services, how long they were down, and how many customers are likely to have been affected; and what, if any, temporary procedures were used to prevent a complete loss of service and deal with pressing queries.
She also asked what procedures the department plans to implement to prevent a similar loss of service in the future.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Our helplines are all open and taking calls. Our online services are also working well and we encourage people to use them. We thank people for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused by the technical problems over recent days.”
The department will respond to the Treasury committee in due course, they added.