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HMRC scrapping 10-minute answering on Agent Dedicated Line signals new low, says ICAEW

HMRC’s decision to scrap a key waiting time target on its agent-dedicated line is a new low for the department, ICAEW has said

ICAEW has said that HMRC should ‘urgently publish’ a plan setting out improvements to its services and be held accountable for making changes.

This comes as the tax authority announced last week that from 2 October 2023, it will no longer operate a 10-minute service level on its agent-dedicated line (ADL) and will re-route enquiries on PAYE.

HMRC said this means that callers may have to wait slightly longer than normal to speak to an adviser on the ADL, especially at peak times.

Although ICAEW members found waiting times were usually more than 10 minutes on the ADL, with many citing around 30 minutes or more, the move demonstrated that a thorough review into HMRC’s resources was needed to determine whether it can operate effectively, ICAEW said.

Currently, the service handles 1.2m calls a year, a third of which could be resolved using online services.

The latest announcement provides further evidence of a continued decline in HMRC’s performance and comes after years of performance failing below-expected standards, with little sign of any improvement likely in the near future.

Only 5% of small businesses said that their dealings with HMRC had improved in the last 12 months, compared to 61% who felt it had ‘stayed the same’, according to the annual Administrative Burdens Advisory Board (ABAB) survey.

Telephone services received the most criticism, with 40% of respondents stating that HMRC phone support was poor.

ICAEW has said it was disappointing that despite engaging with professional bodies in advance of the announcement, suggestions on communications have not been taken up by HMRC.

Michael Izza, ICAEW chief executive, said: ‘Removing the 10-minute service level on the ADL represents a new low in HMRC’s declining performance. Agents play a key role in the tax system and if they can’t work effectively there is a significant knock-on effect on the UK economy.

‘It seems clear that HMRC does not have the tools to manage the tax system effectively and efficiently, so to restore confidence we want to see a thorough review with a plan to improve services and develop digital capabilities for the future.’

ICAEW also pointed to issues with digital services and said agents often had to resort to using the phone or writing to HMRC as many services lacked functionality only because they were unable to resolve their clients’ issues digitally.

HMRC’s repeated insistence that taxpayers and agents use online services highlights that it doesn’t understand the problems they face in using them and simply adds to the frustrations that agents experience.

Many HMRC digital services are designed in isolation and are not comprehensive, the Institute said, adding that building good digital systems requires proper investment.

ICAEW has given HMRC a list of improvements to digital services that would reduce demand for phone and post services, but there seems to be a lack of urgency from HMRC to address these.


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