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  • Writer's pictureInchmead

Two thirds of accountants criticise HMRC phone service

The majority of tax agents are dissatisfied with the quality of HMRC’s dedicated agents helpline with reliability and speed of response criticised

The latest HMRC research found that there was general dissatisfaction with HMRC’s efficiency and effectiveness with only one in five rating HMRC in this area, leaving 81% of accountants less than happy with the performance of the tax authority.

The level of satisfaction with HMRC is in decline with 38% of accountants criticising the standard of service on the agents dedicated line (ADL). Reflecting the drop in service standards since the pandemic struck, the same research in 2019 showed that 61% of agents were satisfied with HMRC’s service. In four years, confidence in HMRC has deteriorated significantly.

While the ADL is a dedicated line, the quality of service on general helplines was described as even worse with 72% of agents negative about the quality of these HMRC phone helplines.

As HMRC tries to reduce the use of telephone lines and move the bulk of its business transactions online, it is clear from the research that this approach is not supported by accountants.

The research found that 85% of agents said they would prefer to contact HMRC by phone to resolve their clients’ tax problems, while 59% said they would use email for communications.

This underlines the difficulties facing agents who try to resolve issues online with many finding the information hard to find and requiring expert assistance from HMRC advisers rather than relying on

Less than half (45%) of agents gave a positive rating for their overall experience of dealing with HMRC on behalf of their clients over the last 12 months. What is more, there has been no improvement in this rating since 2021.

One in four agents (26%) gave a negative rating of their overall experience, an increase from 22% in 2021. Similar to previous years, the smallest agents and those that interacted with HMRC only through online channels were the most positive.

There were also signs that the level of service was deteriorating with half of agents stating that HMRC did not resolve issues within an acceptable timeframe, up from 45% the previous year.

Confidence in HMRC among agents fell in 2022. Just over a third (35%) gave a positive rating, compared with 43% in 2021.

Agents were negative about HMRC across a range of measures, including the ease of acting on behalf of their client, their overall experience of HMRC, and whether services were tailored, and they were more likely to have had to contact HMRC by telephone because they could not resolve their issue online.

Agents were asked how easy they felt it was to deal with tax issues on behalf of their clients over the last 12 months. Over half (56%) gave a negative rating for ease of dealing with tax issues on behalf of their clients in 2022.

Less than a third (31%) of agents with turnover above £60,000 were positive about their dealings with HMRC with anyone using phone helplines generally dissatisfied regardless of firm size. Only 37% of those dealing with HMRC by phone and using online services were satisfied with the outcome.

Richard Wild, CIOT’s head of tax technical, Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), who sits on the HMRC Charter Stakeholder Group, said: ‘The accuracy of guidance and information provided by HMRC continues to raise significant concerns, while many respondents felt getting a response and action via correspondence or telephone can be extremely difficult and time consuming, even for simple issues.’

The research findings underline the deterioration in HMRC performance with increasing frustration on the part of agents and accountants about service standards.

Adam Harper, Director of Professional Standards at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), said: ‘Customer services are going in the wrong direction. This is causing genuine harm to businesses as well as wider UK productivity. AAT’s members have repeatedly expressed their frustration of facing severe delays with HMRC, even with simple tasks like VAT registration.

‘HMRC can only do so much based on the limited resources they have available. Going digital is not a silver bullet to this issue - it must also be supported by sufficient investment in front-line services. AAT would urge the government to listen to these warning signs and announce additional investment in the Autumn Statement to ensure taxpayers and businesses get a more timely and responsive service from HMRC.’

Despite the service issues, the general consensus was that HMRC was a professional organisation with 70% saying that staff acted professionally. This once again highlights resourcing issues as HMRC struggles to deal with reduced budgets and less staff despite HMRC itself stating that the tax affairs of businesses and individuals were becoming more complex, leading to heightened demand for specialist support.

The research was conducted by Kantar Public and interviews with 1,850 agents were carried out between 1 September and 18 November 2022.


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