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Hanging on the telephone?

By Ian Holloway, head of legislation and compliance at Cintra HR & Payroll Services

It is not often that I would recommend reading a report that is over 50 pages long.

However, on 25 May 2016, the National Audit Office published its report HMRC, the quality of service for personal taxpayers, and it is certainly worth a read. It probably only conveys what we already knew about HMRC’s service standards but, to be fair, it does recognise that the UK’s tax collection agency has collected more revenue for less cost to the taxpayer.

However, the report does say that the increased revenue collection (with a significant reduction in taxpayer costs) has come at a price when it comes to customer service. To be honest, there are statistics and “findings” all over the document but it is a balanced report. This is in recognition that it covers a period from tax year 2010-11 to 2015-16 and there have been peaks and troughs in performance during this time.

The headline-grabbing statistic is that long waits on the telephone resulted in an “economic cost” of £97m in 2015-16 – that is, the cost to the economy of people waiting to get through to HMRC’s call centres rather than being productive at work. This was as a result of a “collapse” in service standards in 2014-15 when HMRC reduced staff before it had made the changes needed to reduce demand for them. Recruitment of 2,400 staff in late 2015 led to an improvement in customer service. HMRC now claims that the average waiting time is 6 minutes. Indeed, this six-minute figure is detailed in HMRC’s Single department plan published on 24 May 2016, covering the five years to 2020.

Regardless of an improvement in customer service and the commitment to improve it further, I think taxpayers need to engage more with HMRC using the online personal tax account. The telephone is useful and will always be a necessary feature, as nothing beats talking to a person (as long as they know what you are talking about). However, many of us do our banking and shopping online so, in reality, what is the obstacle to handling our tax affairs online? Importantly, HMRC needs to demonstrate the system is robust and accurate, though we will not know if personal tax accounts are the way forward until we sign up and try it.

By the way, I am not being paid a commission for advocating the digital personal tax account in case anyone thinks that! I do concede and fully appreciate that changing the way we deal with HMRC about our tax affairs is a major hurdle but let’s give it a try – after all, it’s going to happen anyway.

Posted on 31st May 2016 by Jerome Smail



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