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HMRC ordered to explain long call wait times and outages

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HMRC has been told to explain the “concerning” call wait times in the run up to the busy tax return deadline as well as the helpline outages reported in December.

Taxpayers contacting HMRC in early January 2023 were reportedly kept on hold for several hours before being cut off without speaking to staff, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Concerns have been expressed that HMRC’s work from home policy may have led to some of these issues.

The influential Treasury Committee said it is “of serious concern that taxpayers are apparently unable to reach HMRC by telephone in the run up to the 31 January online self-assessment deadline”.

And these latest customer service reports follow disruption and outages to some of HMRC’s online services and telephone helplines in early December.

In a letter to Jim Harra, the chief executive of HMRC, Harriet Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Committee ordered that the department explain the issues in more detail.

Baldwin said she would “appreciate responses” to questions posed around whether HMRC recognises the concerns and issues reported; whether demand and service levels in early January were “substantially different” from the average and to what extent the problems relate to staff working from home.

The Committee also wants to find out what steps HMRC took to resolve the reported concerns; whether procedures will be implemented to prevent future issues, and asked whether the December disruption was linked to January’s issues.

‘Lessons need to be learnt’

A statement from Baldwin, read: “These reports are seriously concerning, given that taxpayers are apparently unable to speak to HMRC by telephone as the 31 January online self-assessment deadline approaches.

“Our Committee also awaits the outcome of HMRC’s review into December’s outages, in which 99,000 taxpayer calls were potentially missed. Lessons need to be learnt from these issues, and HMRC must learn them quickly.”

‘Busiest time of year’

HMRC said the first week of January is normally a busy week with extra calls following the Christmas break, an extra bank holiday in Scotland, and more staff on annual leave so call wait times will be “longer than usual”.

It will respond to the Committee’s letter in due course and an HMRC spokesperson added: “This is our busiest time of the year and we apologise to those waiting to speak to us.

“We strongly encourage customers to check online before calling. Many queries can be dealt with much more quickly through your Personal Tax Account or the HMRC app.”

Related: 10 tips to help you meet the 31 January tax return deadline

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