“HMRC expect agents to act with high standards, but do we see the same in return?”

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Where accountants see problems with HMRC’s service standards, and what they’d like to see changed.

HMRC’s latest monthly performance report published in April for February 2024 shows the main customer service performance indicators for 2023 to 2024 in comparison to each particular month. These customer service performance indicators look at:

  • Customer satisfaction levels.
  • Level of support for online customers.
  • Number of phone calls answered by HMRC.
  • How quickly correspondence is dealt with.

According to HMRC’s latest data, 78.6% of customers in February were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with HMRC’s phone, webchat and digital services, falling slightly short of HMRC’s 80% target.

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HMRC received over 3 million phone calls in February, with 2 million callers requesting to speak to an advisor. Just 66.6% of these were answered, rather short of HMRC’s target of 85%.

Of the 1.5 million iForms received by HMRC with 1.2 million requiring a response, 80.5% of correspondence was cleared within 15 days. As well as being in line with HMRC’s 80% target, it also shows improvement from last year, when 75% of correspondence was cleared within 15 days.

Of correspondence received in February, 92.1% was cleared within 40 days, slightly missing HMRC’s 95% target.

HMRC also have a Once and Done score, which asks customers a Yes/No question about if they were able to achive what they wanted to. 83.8% of customers responded ‘yes’, a slight drop from last month’s 86.8%.

On the surface, these figures don’t seem catastrophic, yet social media platforms and online forums are regularly awash with HMRC-related frustrations and complaints from accountants, agents and business owners themselves around poor levels of customer service at HMRC.

So how does all this bear out from accountants themselves? How satisfied are accountants and bookkeepers with HMRC service levels at the moment and crucially, what do they think HMRC need to do in order to improve things?

HMRC desperately needs to invest in staff levels and training

Ellis Harris-Boulter MAAT, Founder and Director, FieCo Accountancy and Marketing and AAT Tutor.

It isn’t hard to find an accountant or taxpayer who is frustrated with HMRC’s performance. HMRC rightly expect agents to be professional and act with high standards, but do we see the same in return?

Years ago, you used to be able drop into a local HMRC office and have your issues sorted. Now, there’s huge delays in receiving VAT numbers, long waiting times on the phone and sudden U-turns on plans to close essential tax helplines, to name a few issues.

I see two fundamental problems: HMRC is under-resourced, and manages an over-complicated tax system.

HMRC needs to be quickly awarded with significant additional funding. This should surely pay for itself, with a tax gap of £36bn in 2021/22. Labour’s policy proposal to invest over £500m in HMRC annually will undoubtedly help, but I wonder if this goes far enough, since the increase in staff levels amount to less than 10%.

Additionally, complex legislation has meant that HMRC manages an unwieldy taxation system. To their credit, their detailed written tax information is often backed with a good selection of scenarios and guidance. But I’ve heard reference to Hong Kong’s well respected tax system, governed by a code less than 300 pages, compared to the UKs 10,000s of pages.

So under-resourced and overly burdened by a complicated tax code, alongside pressure to create digital tax systems, it’s no surprise that we all feel like we fall between the gaps.

Verdict: HMRC desperately need significant funding to invest in staff levels and training.

HMRC needs upgraded infrastructure and a more streamlined system

Kirsty Nash MAAT, Licensed Accountant, Tiny Shark Accounting

It’s no secret that HMRC’s service levels are causing mass frustration and they only appear to be getting worse. One major issue experienced by myself, my clients and peers is the incredibly long wait times for phone support, which can be exacerbated by inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate information when you do finally speak to someone.

This lack of reliable, timely support can cause delays in filings and even more grief when trying to resolve something that has gone wrong. This adds unnecessary stress and workload for accountants and individuals alike, and dare I say, HMRC as well.

HMRC needs to upgrade their infrastructure and continue their efforts for a digital, more streamlined system so that they in turn can better manage service levels. It also needs to enhance customer support by improving the training of customer service representatives and by not suddenly choosing to close (and then reopen) phone lines.

Recent news that HMRC will be receiving additional funding is a welcome update and acknowledgement of the issues currently faced by taxpayers. I will be watching for updates with interest.

Verdict: HMRC need to upgrade infrastructure and continue efforts for digital and more streamlined system.

HMRC should implement a ticketing system to help track progress

Alison Bryan FMAAT, Flourish Accounts

I often encounter issues and frustrations with HMRC. I’m always spending too long on hold. Over 40 minutes is sadly normal. When I do get through, often the person I speak to can’t answer my question and I then have to be referred for a call back.

I’m often not able to use the online chat as it seems there is never anyone available.

HMRC staff are always polite but I feel for them too as they are often not trained well enough to respond to questions and queries.

I’d like to be able to do more online rather than having to call. A ticket system would be amazing because even if I have to wait, I can track progress.

Verdict: HMRC should implement a ticket system because then progress can be tracked.

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Would you like to contribute to future articles like this one? If so, please get in touch with Annie Makoff-Clark at [email protected].

Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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