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HMRC asks taxpayers to defer non-urgent telephone calls

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‘We are aware that over the last few days the steady improvement in contact centre service since 2010 has slipped,’ HMRC said in a statement posted on its website today. ‘We are determined to reverse that.’

The BBC’s Money Box programme on 14 April heard from listeners who had ‘waited hours on the phone to speak to HMRC advisers’ and featured an interview with Robin Williamson, Technical Director of the CIOT’s Low Incomes Tax Reform Group.

LITRG said on 11 April that the average wait during three ‘mystery shopper’ calls to HMRC helplines was 29 minutes: ‘On a PAYG mobile that could have cost £11.60 per call, which could equate to half a day’s income for a pensioner. No doubt, HMRC will claim that there was pent-up demand over Easter. But a customer-centric organisation (as HMRC claim to be) would add extra resources in anticipation.’

HMRC said the slippage in contact centre service was partly due ‘extremely high levels of calls from taxpayers’ querying the need to complete a tax return. The ‘notice to complete a tax return’ was accompanied by a leaflet titled ‘Should I be in self assessment?’

Taxpayers were invited to call HMRC if they answered ‘no’ to a series of questions. ‘We apologise to those callers who have been unable to get through to us,’ HMRC said.

To tackle the ‘additional demand’ HMRC has moved 350 staff from other duties into contact centres; ‘focused’ all self assessment-trained contact centre staff on to lines dealing with self assessment calls; and moved managers and trainers onto front-line contact centre services.

‘These measures are already taking effect and service is improving, but it will help us to restore services more quickly if taxpayers with non-urgent enquiries can defer their call until next week, when we are confident these measures will have improved things even more,’ the department added.