Tax & admin · 4 November 2015

MPs warn HMRC could be “threat to tax collection” with poor customer service, as millions of calls go unanswered

Half of all calls to the taxman in the first six months of this year were not picked up
Half of all calls to the taxman in the first six months of this year were not picked up

MPs have criticised HMRC for “abysmal” customer service, voicing the concern that millions of people may have filled in their tax returns incorrectly because HMRC isn’t answering their calls.

Half of all calls to the taxman in the first six months of this year were not picked up, which equates to 12m unanswered calls. A report by the Public Accounts Committee showed the scale of HMRC’s troubles, in trying to cope with the 50m calls it receives each year.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said HMRC needed to “rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse – to the extent it could be considered a genuine threat to tax collection”.

“It beggars belief that, having made disappointing progress on tax evasion and avoidance, the taxman also seems incapable of running a satisfactory service for people trying to pay their fair share,” she added.

Half of calls being answered in the first six months of 2015 was a worse figure than that of 2011/12, when around three in four calls were picked up. Time was also an issue, as the taxman failed to answer six in ten calls within five minutes.

The report also criticised HMRC for failing to provide concrete aims to improve its customer service “beyond a vague aim to improve year on year”.

“It acknowledged that people are more likely to pay the right tax when they find HMRC easy to deal with, but, in the words of its own chief executive and permanent secretary, ‘we are still struggling’”.

The report went so far as to say it was concerned the level of customer service was so poor that “they are having an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues”.

With so many calls slipping through the net, the worry is that people are ringing with questions about their tax returns and PAYE slips, but failing to get clarity.

With the government looking to commence the rollout of a digital tax return system from next year, the hope is that this will provide a more straightforward and efficient process, but Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh, who is a member of the PAC, told The Telegraph, it wouldn’t solve this issue. “Online tax returns have their place, but at the end of the day, people do have problems and queries that they need answered. The tax system is very complicated and they need help.”

An HMRC spokesperson said the taxman had explained to the committee that it hadn’t provided “a consistent level of customer service in the first half of the year” and had recruited around 3,000 new staff to improve customer service. It added that these issues hadn’t affected its ability to collect tax.

Image: CWCS

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.