HMRC staff are the latest group of workers to join what has been dubbed in the press as a “Summer of Strikes”, with nearly 500 HMRC service advisers based in the tax authority’s Newcastle and East Kilbride offices spending a large part of May and early June striking. The tax office staff have cited pay, pensions and job security as the main issues behind their decision to walk out.
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka, was interviewed and gave the following comment as to why the strike were happening,: “Our hard-working members in HMRC are fed up with being treated with disdain by a government that doesn’t seem to care about its own staff.”
This latest industrial action has put further pressure on HMRC’s already embattled service lines, with affected services including the HMRC Employer Helpline, Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) Helpline, HMRC’s Student Loans Unit and PAYE.
HMRC on Strike: Pressure on service levels
Everyone who has tried to get through to an adviser who can help, has run into varying levels of trouble as they try to get through. Indeed, our own ‘very frustrated’ payroll manager said to me recently: “I’ve not been able to speak to anyone on PAYE advice lines. I just get told to go to the main HMRC site and then they hang up,” she then added, “at the moment other helplines seem to be okay, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess”.
Anecdotally, most other accountants are suffering with the same problem with HMRC’s telephone service lines, with many commenting that they can’t get through on any line they try. Just one quote from many was, “They just tell me they are too busy and cut the call. Meanwhile my queries are building up – what are we actually supposed to do?! They seem to think most queries can be answered via webchat or by reading guidance – this is clearly very untrue,”
And the problems are getting worse, as anyone has tried to get through to HMRC in the last few days are met with a pre-recorded message regarding the strikes which simply says: “Sorry we can’t take your call, goodbye.” The line then cuts off, but at least the system says sorry to you before it hangs up!
HMRC on Strike: Déjà vu, again!
Many of my accountancy colleagues in the wider community, whilst noticing yet another a dip in service, seem to have taken the strikes in their stride. Seemingly having become so used to the temperamental nature of HMRC’s service lines that they hadn’t noticed an appreciable difference.
An accountant friend of mine in Chester recently wrote in our on-line forum, “The service is so bad in the first place, that it is difficult for strikes to have any noticeable effect. The entirety of HMRC’s staff base could go on strike for weeks on end and I still wouldn’t notice a difference in service levels.”
When HMRC was contacted for comment on the current industrial action, a spokesperson said: “The vast majority of our customer services are operating as usual during this industrial action. However, customers should expect wait times of around an hour on our employer helpline.” The spokesperson also encouraged customers to access “our improved online services which are quick and easy to use.”
Tax Accountant’s view
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have regularly highlighted HMRC’s dreadfully poor service levels, as indeed has Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee. So, I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised at the latest deterioration in service levels for both accountants and the public.
However, I will immediately write an update to this blog if I detect the slightest improvement, just don’t hold your breath!