A new Treasury Select Committee report on the administration and effectiveness of HMRC is highly critical of the tax authority’s service record. MPs have called for better telephone and postal communication and express concern at the damaging impact of a reduction in resources.
Examining HMRC’s performance, the Committee concluded that ‘poor service standards have been an issue for many years’. Specifically, the report criticised telephone response rates and lengthy delays in answering post. In 2010-11, only 48% of calls received by HMRC helplines were answered, with callers waiting an average of two minutes and nearly four minutes in peak periods to speak to an advisor.
It was noted that taxpayers would pay less if HMRC switched from 0845 to less expensive 0345 numbers. Mobile phone users in particular would benefit from such a move.
Endemic postal delays
Considering evidence submitted from the public, the Committee commented that, ‘cases of replies being received only after two or three months, in each case from a different geographic location, are not uncommon’. It concluded that, ‘the evidence we have received…suggest(s) that long delays in responding to post at HMRC are endemic. This is unacceptable.’
The Committee considered the impact of recent efficiency savings at HMRC and whether these had impacted on service levels. Although this was denied by HMRC officials, the report stated that there was ‘near unanimity among our witnesses that the efficiency savings at HMRC have been partly responsible for the decline in service standards and, therefore, that HMRC’s claim to have delivered £1.1 billion of savings “without overall negative impact on performance” lacked credibility.’
In a section entitled, ‘Future Prospects’, the report stated that ‘the prospects of HMRC’s customer service improving in the near future appear bleak’. In the same section, the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s Low Income Tax Reform Group summed up the impact of the reputational damage HMRC has sustained: ‘HMRC is now too often seen as an organisation that is unable to collect the right amount of tax, increasingly difficult to contact by phone, letter or in person, yet unforgiving of customer error and relentless in its pursuit of small debts.’
Responding to the publication of the Committee’s report, Which? tax expert Ian Robinson said: ‘Although dealing with HMRC can be frustrating, it’s important to remember that most queries are dealt with satisfactorily. There are procedures for dealing with underpaid tax and cases where individuals have paid too much tax. In the event of poor service, there is a complaints process and it is ultimately possible to turn to an independent adjudicator.’
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