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Accountants criticise deteriorating HMRC service standards

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
The quality of HMRC services has suffered further deterioration according to research by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

Over 90% of members thought HMRC’s service standards had either remained the same (48%) or deteriorated (43%). The number who thought the service had deteriorated had actually increased from 34% in 2014, particularly worrying at this time of year as the self-assessment deadline looms.

ICAEW members say this is concerning as HMRC has recently recruited a further 3,000 call centre staff and the delays are impacting on their time and costs.

Some 57% said the amount of time spent dealing with HMRC has increased, up from 47% last year, while 40% thought the monetary cost had increased in the past year.

Furthermore, only one in five trust HMRC to “get it right first time” compared with three out of five that do not.

Turning to digital services, just over half of those surveyed regard the move to digital as a positive development. However, only one in three of those surveyed felt that HMRC was supporting agents in this move.

HMRC is investing heavily in digital services and ICAEW believes it is critical that when digital services are rolled out to taxpayers, they are also rolled out to accountants at the same time so that the agent can see exactly what the taxpayer can see.

On a more positive note, the services provided by the agent dedicated line and agent account managers scored well and these services should be developed further, say the ICAEW.

HMRC must ensure service standards are consistent

Frank Haskew, head of ICAEW tax faculty, said: “The ability to get through to the right person quickly to resolve queries remains a problem. More needs to be done to improve call and post handling efficiency and ensure that HMRC gets it right first time. In particular, there is often a need to speak to someone with detailed knowledge of the tax system rather than being directed to less experienced staff.

“As HMRC develops its digital services it must still improve its telephone and post services and ensure that its service standards are consistent.  This should be a priority for the incoming chief executive of HMRC.”

‘We aim to give accurate answers as quickly as we can’

An HMRC spokesperson said: “Many of the issues raised with us by accountants over the phone require careful analysis in relation to the law before we can give a substantial answer. We aim to give accurate answers as quickly as we can, but we want to get it right and that can sometimes take longer than we would like.

“Following the last report we set up a working group to address the issues raised and since then we have announced the digital transformation of the tax system giving individuals and agents more direct access to the tax system. We are committed to ensuring tax agents are fully engaged with the implementation of new digital services and expect agents to remain central to the effective working of the tax system. We will be working closely with tax agents to address the issues raised in this year’s report.”




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