- HMRC closed its self-assessment helpline over the summer due to a “seasonal” trial
- HMRC bosses told the finance committee they are planning another closure
HMRC says it will implement a further closure of its self-assessment helpline following a trial over the summer that was widely criticized by accountants and business owners.
This came as the Treasury Select Committee questioned senior HMRC officials and board members this afternoon as part of its ongoing review of the Treasury’s work.
In June, the tax office announced that it would close its self-assessment helpline for three months in order to route inquiries from the hotline to the tax office’s digital services on a trial basis.
It was said that a “seasonal model” was being tested because the hotline received fewer calls in the summer. But HMRC informed taxpayers about self-assessment just two days before the closure for the entire summer.
HMRC is planning a further closure of its self-assessment helpline despite widespread criticism
That’s what Money has heard from a number of readers affected by the sudden closure of the self-assessment hotline.
We discovered a woman was hit with hundreds of pounds in fines for late tax returns, despite not having been self-employed for four years.
After six months of trying to resolve the issue, she tried calling the self-assessment hotline only to find it was closed for the summer.
Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s second permanent secretary, told the Finance Committee today: “We have decided to trial a seasonal model.”
“We had put a lot of work into preparing the trial, but it took some time to make a decision about communication, so we were a little late in communicating with customers.”
“That definitely wasn’t part of the plan.” [to give the public two days’ notice]’ she added.
“Once we managed to wade through the full range of stakeholders we needed to speak to internally, we ran out of time that we ideally would have had for further communication.”
Former Virgin Money boss Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia, who is now a board member of HMRC, said the board was “aware of the closure plan” but was “not aware that communication was being delayed in this way has”.
The outcome of the summer hotline closure is expected to be released in the new year, but initial reports suggest that customer satisfaction has fallen significantly.
In a letter to the committee, HMRC boss Jim Harra said customer satisfaction for the online service helpdesk had fallen from 29.4 per cent to 24.7 per cent year-on-year.
Satisfaction with the web chat for self-assessment also fell year-on-year from 76.2 percent to 70.1 percent.
He said this was likely a “temporary phenomenon during the time it took to increase capacity there.”
Speaking to the committee on Wednesday, Harra said: “Demand for online hotlines exceeded our forecasts.” At the start of our process, we did not have enough counselors on this hotline to meet demand.
“Without carrying out the process, [forecasting demand] was practically a guess. The demand for health and safety was higher than we had forecast, so we had to train and deploy additional consultants.
“In the first test phase, this meant poorer service for this hotline and therefore lower customer satisfaction. Over the course of the testing period, we added additional resources and increased customer satisfaction.”
While HMRC has not yet completed the assessment of its pilot completion, MacDonald said they plan to further complete the self-assessment completion.
HMRC did not respond to questions about when the closure might occur or whether it would occur before the self-assessment submission deadline in January.
Harra added that HMRC “does not have the resources to deliver customer service standards through the traditional telephone and postal channels” so they “need to reduce contact demand and move to digital self-service”.
“The challenge is becoming increasingly difficult. An increasing number of taxpayers means an increase in contacts. We don’t have growing resources.
We have contacted HMRC for comment.
Are you a frustrated HMRC employee or a business owner who has been left in the dark? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with HMRC in the subject line