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HMRC in £45m drive to improve ‘customer’ service

HM REVENUE & CUSTOMS has pledged to allocate £45m of its budget to improving its ‘customer’ service, as it released statistics which showed an inconsistent call handling performance in 2014/15.

The move will pay for around 3,000 additional staff to join customer service teams, in addition to 2,000 staff who are being moved over from other parts of HMRC to help with the tax credits deadlines, letters and forms.

HMRC receives more than 60 million calls a year, peaking around key deadlines such as 31 January for self-assessment, and 31 July for tax credits renewals.

Its performance has been a regular source of problems and criticism in recent years, particularly in the context of its contact centre closures.

Approximately 73% of calls were answered last year – short of the department’s 80% target – with inconsistent service standards across the year, with some months falling below 70%, bottoming out at 65.4% in September.

The figures also show that in some months as many as one in five customers heard a busy tone and could not join a call queue.

HMRC chief executive Lin Homer (pictured) accepted that standards had not been good enough and said: “Despite our best efforts, our call performance hasn’t been up to scratch and we apologise to all those customers who have struggled to get through to us.

“Good customer service is an absolute priority for HMRC. We set ourselves the target to answer 80% of calls, to provide a more consistent level of service across the year and to reduce peaks and troughs in service levels between busy and quieter times.”

Baker Tilly senior tax partner George Bull warned, though, that the issue was not only providing adequate capacity to take calls, but also in the quality of service provided to callers.

“Anyone who has tried to get through to the HMRC helpline in recent months will be relieved to hear that that the Department is taking steps to improve its woeful record on call handling. However, the problem is not just about getting through… simply getting more people to man the phones will not necessarily solve this problem,” he said.

Earlier this month, a poll of Accountancy Age readers found that resource cuts had hamstrung its ability to deliver an adequate service. Margaret Hodge, former head of the Public Accounts Committee told sister title Financial Director that the taxman should be “better and properly resourced”.

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