HMRC tax helpline inundated

A new HM Revenue
and Customs
helpline has received nearly 28,800 calls from businesses
struggling to pay their tax bills.

Payment Support Service
(BPSS) helpline granted 14,200 extensions to tax
bill deadlines between 24 November and 4 January, including 2,700 over the
Christmas period.

An HMRC spokesman said the 14,200 extensions were for tax bills worth
£223.9m, and a further 4,700 cases, worth £325.8m, had been referred for further

The spokesman said no information was available on which industries were
attracting the most ‘time-to-pay’ arrangements, and was unable to comment on the
criteria for approving extension requests.

‘It’s all on a case by case basis; HMRC doesn’t release the criteria,’ he
said. ‘We look at things like whether somebody has a level of current tax debt
and whether they’ve had problems [paying their tax bill] in the past.’

The BPSS was introduced in November after claims the government wasn’t doing
enough to help businesses survive the downturn.

The spokesman added that the BPSS call centre could handle up to 3,100
enquiries an hour. ‘At no point have we gone anywhere near that,’ he said.

Stephen Alambritis, head of public affairs at the
of Small Businesses
, welcomed the BPSS.

‘We’ve had good feedback from our members about the service,’ he said. ‘They
have been phoning in and have been given leeway. At a time like this when trade
is down, HMRC has been understanding: they’re not going in heavy-handed.

‘We’d urge them to keep the line open even when things pick up.’

However, he called on HMRC to clarify the criteria for extending deadlines
for tax bills.

Upcoming deadlines ­ including self-assessment ­ could result in a surge of
businesses requesting more time to pay their tax bill.

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