Last year, HMRC aimed to move more customers online to reduce the demand for postal and telephone contact and reduce staff costs. Unfortunately, before the new system was fully up and running, 5,500 staff were released from their jobs but the amount of phone calls did not decrease, leading to ‘a collapse in service quality.’
According to a National Audit Office (NAO) report, waiting times for calls during October 2015, tripled to 47 minutes; just at the time when paper tax returns were due. This resulted in one in five callers hanging up after waiting over quarter of an hour for a response; resulting in a cost to the economy of £97 million. More importantly, it left callers vulnerable to not getting the advice they needed to complete tax returns accurately.
But it didn’t stop there!
During the chaos, HMRC moved 2,400 staff to man the phones which resulted in them deferring essential work on PAYE records. This then meant that the number of discrepancies between PAYE and self-assessment returns doubled with an estimated 3.2 million people at risk of getting a yes to the question “Have I paid too much tax?”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Waiting on the phone to HMRC has put some people at risk of debt. Long waiting times not only cause frustration and increase the cost of the call, but can also mean people miss important deadlines.”
Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general for customer services, said: “We recognise that early in 2015 we didn’t provide the standard of service that people are entitled to expect and we apologised at the time. We have since fully recovered and are now offering our best service levels in years.
“Over the past six months we’ve consistently answered calls in an average of six minutes, and have launched new online tax accounts and webchat for everyone, enabling customers to manage their tax affairs wherever and whenever they want. There’s never been a better or more convenient service for our customers.”
Meg Hillier MP, who oversees the work of the NAO, said “Most taxpayers just want to pay the tax they owe on time, without question. If they can’t get access to the right advice they are the ones who pay the penalty not HMRC.”
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