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HMRC helplines leave people hanging

Average waiting time increases to 38 minutes

Callers to HMRC’s tax helplines could face a lengthy wait to speak to someone

New Which? research has found lengthy delays in getting through to HMRC telephone helplines, with callers facing an average waiting time of 38 minutes.

Which? repeated research it first carried out in 2014, making 100 calls to HMRC’s self-assessment and general enquiries helplines and recording how long it took to speak to an adviser. Last year the average wait was 18 minutes but in 2015 it had more than doubled – to 38 minutes.

Nearly one in five (18) of its calls were not answered within an hour. 

In the last year, HMRC has changed its phone system to allow people to stay on hold for longer rather than being cut off at busy times, so while wait times went up this year, only seven out of the hundred calls were cut off.

Find out more: For anyone yet to file a tax return, Which? has a free tax calculator 

Tax helpline improvements needed

Researchers found that the later in the day they called, the longer they had to wait. Before 2pm the average wait was 28 minutes but after 6pm it increased to 61 minutes. The longest wait recorded was 1 hour and 16 minutes.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: ‘Our findings show how difficult it is to get through to HMRC’s helplines with people facing lengthy waits. With many people soon to be seeking advice on their self-assessment tax return, HMRC must continue to work hard to improve customer service and reduce call-waiting times.’

Find out more: Read our comprehensive advice on self-assessment online tax returns  

HMRC changes

HMRC, which receives 60 million calls a year, told Which? that it had recruited 3,000 new staff into customer service roles and that it expected service levels to improve. 

It has also announced the launch of personal tax accounts for self-assessment taxpayers – it aims to give all taxpayers access to a digital account by April 2016. The security these offer should get round the problem of communicating by email. You’ll have to log in to use them, in the same way that you do to file your tax return online. By 2020 it is expected that many taxpayers will no longer have to complete a tax return at all.    

HMRC also has a live web chat service. This is designed for more general tax queries and is less secure than the personal accounts. It hasn’t been widely promoted but you can find it by going to HMRC’s online helpdesk and waiting to be offered help.

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