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HMRC service levels stoop to ‘all-time low’

HMRC service levels stoop to ‘all-time low’
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

HMRC customer service levels reached an "all-time low" last year, according to a Government report.

Over two-thirds (63%) of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an advisor during 2022-23, a rise from 46% a year before.

On average, it took over 16 minutes for a representative to answer the phone to callers, shooting up from 12 minutes in the previous year.

The rise in callers waiting to discuss issues like tax and benefits came at a time when demand for the phone and postal services increased by 10%, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found.

This was attributed to more workers paying tax due to fiscal drag, which may continue since the Government’s freezing of personal income tax thresholds in the last Budget. Despite the amount of tax revenue reaching a record high of £814bn, the report said HMRC believes the growth in demand is too much to deal with considering the resources at its disposal.

The report’s summary that “five years of decline” in customer services were “due to conscious choices made by HMRC and HM Treasury” follow the decision to close the phone lines of HMRC during the summer. In December, HMRC was still operating short of its own satisfaction targets set out, based on its monthly performance report.

HMRC sent 10,000 letters to the wrong address and admits it could send more

Before the summer’s cut-off, HMRC was ordered to explain long call wait times and outages. Instead of ringing for advice or information, HMRC pointed callers towards online services to assist their queries instead, including chatbots and web chats.

As well as customer services, the PAC also criticised the treatment some taxpayers received from the Government department.

It wrote: “HMRC is not taking seriously enough the distress caused to innocent citizens when companies use the wrong address to register their business.”

On one occasion, a taxpayer received more than 10,000 letters due to an agent registering companies for VAT at the taxpayer’s address, instead of a neighbouring office that shared the same postcode.

Criminal prosecutions plummet from previous year

Despite this issue being raised by the PAC, HMRC was unable to stop the correspondence being sent and, further, couldn’t guarantee no more would flood the taxpayer’s letterbox in the future.

Other areas of concern raised in the verdict included the crime investigations pursued by HMRC.

Criminal prosecutions dropped from 691 in 2019-20 to 240 last year, despite “HMRC going to great lengths to challenge people in the courts over their employment status.”

The report insisted that the Government department “must be seen to pursue all forms of non-compliance sufficiently.”

The committee also estimates that error and fraud in 2020-21 was more than three times greater than it previously thought, shooting up from £336m to £1.1bn.

YourMoney.com contacted HMRC for comment and will update the story when received.