Home Money HMRC phone customers spent 798 YEARS on hold in a single tax period, National Audit Office reveals

HMRC phone customers spent 798 YEARS on hold in a single tax period, National Audit Office reveals

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Customer service issues – average wait time to contact HMRC increased to 23 minutes

Customers spent almost 800 years waiting to speak to HMRC in a single tax period, according to the UK’s public spending watchdog.

A National Audit Office report found that taxpayers spent 7 million hours (equivalent to 798 years) waiting to speak to HMRC in the 2022-23 tax year.

This was up from 3.2 million hours in 2019-20.

The average waiting time increased from 11:24 minutes to 13:48 minutes over the same period, according to the public spending watchdog.

Customer service issues – average wait time to contact HMRC increased to 23 minutes

And the situation appears to be getting worse, with the NAO finding that the average waiting time in the first 11 months of 2023-24 had reached 23 minutes.

In 2018-19, it only took five minutes to reach the tax collector by phone.

Why are HMRC phone waits so long?

A whopping 72 percent of calls received last year were identified as due to a “failed lawsuit.”

In other words, that means calls caused by faults or delays in the HMRC process, clients chasing the progress of their cases or clients who have found errors.

The tax office has come under increased scrutiny in the last year as waiting times to speak to an adviser soared.

This has only gotten worse as more people enter the tax system.

More people now work multiple jobs, and frozen income thresholds mean some workers now have to pay taxes they previously didn’t earn enough, and many more are being dragged into higher tax brackets.

HMRC advisers are therefore spending more time on the phone and taking fewer calls than in 2019-20, according to the watchdog’s report.

Digital services are failing

At the same time as waiting times are increasing, HMRC has shifted its focus from its telephone services towards digital support, saying many queries can be resolved quickly online.

Last summer it closed its VAT registration helpline and attempted to close its self-assessment helpline in the summer.

This is what Money heard from several readers who had been affected by the sudden closure of the self-assessment helpline.

We revealed a woman had been fined hundreds of pounds for late tax returns, despite not having been self-employed for four years.

After six months of trying to fix the problem, he tried calling the self-assessment line, only to discover it was closed for the summer.

Last autumn, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said customer satisfaction with online helpdesk fell from 29.4 per cent to 24.7 per cent year on year.

Satisfaction with the self-assessment web chat also fell, from 76.2 percent to 70.1 percent year-on-year.

In March, HMRC announced it would again restrict some of its helplines, including another closure of its self-assessment helpline for six months.

It sparked outrage from taxpayers, accountants and even MPs, and was forced to do a U-turn just a day later.

Responding to the NAO report, MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘By law, taxpayers must engage with the tax system. But, for its part, HMRC’s performance in answering customers’ phones has reached an all-time low.

‘Their digital-by-default approach attempts to force customers to interact online.

HMRC must listen to taxpayers’ frustration and make more realistic plans to improve customer service and deliver value for money.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee

“HMRC must listen to taxpayer frustration and make more realistic plans to improve customer service and deliver value for money.”

The NAO said HMRC should develop “more realistic plans to cut services” and that previous closures “failed to consider the views of stakeholders or adequately assess the impacts of the changes on customers”.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: ‘HMRC’s telephone and correspondence services have been below their target services for too long.

‘While many of its digital services work well, they have not made enough of a difference to customers, some of whom have been caught in a downward spiral of service pressures and cuts. HMRC has also failed to achieve planned efficiencies.

“HMRC must give more time for these services to settle and understand the difference they make before adjusting staffing levels.”

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Responding to the NAO report, an HMRC spokesperson said: “While customer service standards on our telephone lines are not yet where we want them to be, we are making great progress in our efforts to improve our customer services and are has received additional funding.” It has been confirmed by the government this week.

‘Millions more people used our highly qualified digital services last year, saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisers to deal with those people who need extra support.

‘We continue to encourage people to deal with us online or via the app where they can, and we are working to provide even better, easier and always available digital services. But, as we have recognized, these changes must occur at a speed and in a way that our customers feel comfortable.”

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