Thousands of Which? members have reported lengthy waits to contact HMRC on its helpline, as the self-assessment deadline looms on January 31.
In a test of the HMRC tax helpline reported in the January issue of Which?, we made 100 calls and found it took an average of 38 minutes to get through, while nearly one in five of our calls weren’t answered until after an hour.
We’ve also run a poll of consumers who’ve called HMRC and today we publish the results. Of 4,707 people who reported their experience between 1 September 2015 and 13 January 2016, more than 70% had to wait more than 30 minutes, with 20% waiting more than an hour.
Find out more: The free-to-use Which? tax calculator lets you check your tax bill for 2014-15 before submitting an online return. Extensive helpnotes highlight tax deductible expenses for the self-employed and those who receive rental income.
Are you waiting on the tax helpline?
Our January investigation prompted HMRC to admit that service levels weren’t good enough for many customers ‘at busy times of year’ and improvements had taken ‘longer than we’d hoped’.
HMRC says that call waiting times have started to fall, and that it answered 90% of calls in December 2015, with an average wait of six minutes.
But many people may still be suffering a frustrating wait. If you’re struggling to get an answer, it’s worth considering new HMRC online webinars on self-assessment, which happen at set times published on the HMRC website. If you register, you can ask ‘general questions about tax’ although online advisers can’t discuss anything confidential or check your tax record.
By April 2016, HMRC intends to give all taxpayers access to digital accounts. Some have feared these would mean quarterly reporting – but HMRC denies this is the case. Digital tax accounts will present ‘a personalised picture of their tax affairs, along with prompts, advice and support through webchat and secure messaging’.
Reaction to our HMRC investigation
Our January investigation was welcomed by the chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier.
She said: ‘Which? has done a great job in exposing the poor service that too many taxpayers still experience when trying to get advice over the telephone.
‘The current service is just not good enough. Long waits are not practical when many people can’t take an hour out of their working day to make a call. We see other parts of government improving customer service. Quite simply it has to be a higher priority for HMRC. We keep being given excuses, what we now need is serious action from HMRC.’
Long delays on HMRC’s data, too
HMRC takes months to publish its customer service data. The most recent figures on its site are from March 2015. Which? has submitted a freedom of information request for data covering April to December 2015; so far, HMRC has shared April to September figures. In April, it recorded an average wait of 23 minutes on the tax helpline. This rose to 37 minutes in June, before falling to 31 minutes in September. When we receive figures for October to December, we’ll publish these.
In the meantime, you can submit your experience to our continuing online poll on Which? Conversation.