HMRC tax helpline delays criticised

HMRC’s TAX HELPLINES have been slammed for being a ‘lottery’ with nearly a third of callers cut off before even getting through to an adviser, a new survey reveals.

In the run-up to the tax return deadline on 31 January, consumer organisation Which? made 100 calls to HMRC’s self-assessment and general enquiries helplines to see how easy it was to get through to an adviser. But 29% of calls were cut off by the automated system before anyone could speak to HMRC because the helpline was ‘very busy’.

Of the 71 calls made where researchers did manage to get past the automated system they were then put on hold for an average of 18 minutes before they could speak to a real person. One caller was kept hanging on for 41 minutes.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “We’ve found people could face lengthy waits or even be cut off when trying to get assistance from HMRC’s helplines. With large numbers of people soon to be seeking help with their self-assessment tax return, we want to see HMRC doing more to monitor and improve their call-waiting times.”

Researchers found that the later in the day they called, the longer the wait and the more likely they were to be cut off.

It also found that the automated system struggled with certain words and phrases. A query about ‘my tax code’ was fine but when we asked ‘Do I need to pay tax on premium bond winnings?’ it asked if the query was about changing a name, or about a VAT surcharge notice.

The HMRC voice-recognition system was introduced in November 2013 to help cut overall call times.

An HMRC spokesman said: “HMRC receives over 40 million calls a year, but we know that some of our customers can struggle to get through on our helplines at very busy times. This isn’t good enough, and we are working hard to improve the range of services we provide.

“This year, we are introducing new technology to help us answer more calls quicker at busy times, and we are improving the digital services we offer so that more customers can find all they need online. There is more to do, and we are committed to improving the service we offer all of our customers at all times, to help them find advice and support when they need it.”


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