It only seems like five minutes since I last commented on HMRC’s dreadful customer service record, particularly with regard to telephone enquiries. So, fast forward to last week, when HMRC chief Jim Harra had his quarterly grilling at the Treasury Committee. During the Q & A session Big Jim unbelievably stated that by the end of 2024, the tax authority will be reducing its phone helpline volume by around a third in order to tackle rising demand. (I’m really struggling to get my head round that comment).
The revelation was made during a routine meeting in which Big Jim, together with his regular sidekick Little Ange (Ms Angela MacDonald), HMRC’s deputy chief executive, were questioned by committee members over the tax authority’s recent track record.
HMRC blames the taxpayer for its own poor performance
Harra also highlighted the Revenue’s continued push to encourage taxpayers to turn to HMRC’s digital channels because of the Tax department’s reduced resources. He revealed that plans were in place to push as many taxpayers (or ‘customers’ as HMRC annoyingly continues to call us) as they can to its digital self-service platforms, and admitted that call volumes would need to fall by around a third in order for HMRC to hit its service targets.
Harra said, “We are not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post which is why you know our strategy is to reduce that contact demand. We estimate that we need to reduce this demand by at least 30% by the end of next year, compared with the 2021-22 baseline, to be able to hit our service standards with the reduced resources that we have.”
The public are asking too many questions
Big Jim then complained that the increasing number of calls to helplines was a key factor in HMRC’s decision, claiming that very many of these calls could easily be dealt with online. “In 22/23, we got 38 million calls, which was three million more than the year before … we have to swim against the current to remove that contact demand, much of which is unnecessary or can relatively easily be self-served online.”
However, most financial bodies place the main finger of blame squarely on the Revenue’s shoulders, citing reduced staff numbers, with those that are there being inadequately trained, major software problems and the increasing complexity of our tax system, exacerbated by cumbersome and sometimes contradictory explanatory notes on their website.
Summer phone line closure
The dynamic duo were also grilled on HMRC’s decision to close the self-assessment helpline over the summer months, with committee chair Harriet Baldwin highlighting the minimal two-day notice period given to customers before the beginning of the pilot. Little Ange blamed the amount of time it had taken to inform their range of stakeholders and as a result they’d run out of time to communicate further and more fully with the public.
What a load of hogwash! Just who are these so-called stakeholders? It strikes me that the word is just a euphemism for an unidentified group that you can blame when you get it wrong! Little Ange then admitted that plans for future helpline closure pilots are in progress, but then complained, “no matter how competent the digital services that you offer, some people prefer to speak to someone on the phone.” The most amazing thing about that comment is Little Ange’s surprise that people overwhelmingly, prefer to talk to a human being than try to communicate through a chatbot.
What do tax professionals think!
Homeworker commented on Big Jim’s claim that, “This summer’s closure of the SA helpline achieved “considerable success” in shifting customers to online platforms
I wonder just how successful those callers were. I tried to use HMRC’s chatbot but it was useless, as it could not identify the purpose of my call, despite me trying several different options. Did they just count the number of people who accessed the chats or actually monitor the results of those attempts?
Tornado commented on a letter he’d received from HMRC, which contained the line: We are not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post.
What a pathetic answer. If they are not resourced to deal with people by the methods that many prefer or indeed have to use because HMRC digital services are so bad, then Jim’s responsibility is to get the resources to deal with this. One of his responsibilities is to help people as much as he can to get their taxes right and he should ensure that he does this in a way that people can understand.
I’ll leave the last comment to Djtax who commented on a line from HMRC’s own charter, which states:
“Customer service is about making things easy – We’ll provide services that are designed around what you need to do, and are accessible, easy and quick to use, minimising the cost to you.”
It is very clear that Jim Harra interprets this responsibility in a completely different way to the rest of us!
Tax Accountant’s view
I don’t think there’s much I can add to the comments above save to say that once again the dynamic duo running HMRC have proven, by word and by deed, that they not only do not live in the real world, but also simply ‘don’t get it’ when it comes to ordinary taxpayers.
But I’ll leave the last word to those lovely people at the Plain English Campaign (PEC), who have edited, rewritten, clarified and Crystal-Mark approved over 24,000 documents since 1979. Each year the PEC give out Golden Bull awards for the worst examples of written tripe, and it will not surprise you to learn that HMRC have won more of these awards than any other organisation!