Tax & admin · 30 May 2018

HMRC accused of failing self-employed as 4m helpline calls go unanswered

HMRC helpline
43m calls were made to the HMRC helpline in the last 12 months

HMRC has faced accusations of failing Britain’s self-employed workforce, as a new report reveals over 4m calls made to its helpline were left unanswered over the past year.

According to figures read to the parliamentary public accounts committee of MPs, over one in ten calls made to the UK’s tax office failed to reach the operator altogether. A total of 43m calls were made to HMRC’s helpline over the audit’s duration.

The report also found that 14 per cent of all calls took over ten minutes to reach an operator, with tax payers struggling even more so ahead of tax submissions. In September 2017, months before the paper self-assessment deadline, one in five calls took over ten minutes to answer.

The figures represent a dive in performance at the tax office, with just over one in 20 calls failing the previous year. The actual number of unanswered calls could be siginificantly higher as the audit overlooks calls that reach an engaged tone.

Helpless helpline?
• 43m calls made to HMRC over last year
• 4m unanswered
• Unasnwered calls double in a year

Labour MP, and chair of the committee, Meg Hillier, told the Daily Telegraph HMRC’s efforts to assist micro business owners were “disappointing”.

“There are a lot of people who are self-employed, who do not have a raft of tax advisers and who rely on HMRC for help,” she said.

“Hanging on the phone during the day is difficult to do for a lot of people. It is absolutely vital HMRC provides a good service. It is collecting tax on hard-earned money, and it needs to make it easier for people to play by the rules.”

Hiller’s Labour colleague, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Peter Dowd, attributed the poor level of service to government “underfunding” of HMRC.

“If people call up to pay their taxes they should be able to get through, and given that the deficit still hasn’t been eliminated you would think this would be a top priority for the chancellor,” Dowd said.

HMRC has also come under criticism for diverting investment away from its telephone helpline in order to put resources into its Making Tax Digital service.

Hillier added: “HMRC has lost a lot of staff but needs to make sure it has enough people to keep maintaining a service – they cannot assume people will switch to doing it all online.”

Responding to the committee’s assessment of its performance, HMRC defended its record.

“We have improved our customer service standards enormously,” a spokesperson said.

“Phone call handling has got better, with average response time falling from 12 minutes in 2015-16 to below five minutes for the past two years.”



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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.