There have been long-standing delays at HMRC, which had been evident before the start of the pandemic and which have continued ever since, with taxpayers receiving unacceptable levels of customer service, ICAEW said.
For example, some callers have waited for more than an hour before being cut off; there are wait times of six months to a year for responses to written technical queries; and promised call-backs have not been received.
As the self assessment deadline of January 31 approaches, ICAEW is calling on HMRC to urgently prioritise improvements to customer service to cut response times, and to address long-term systemic problems too. Many people will try to contact HMRC for advice as they file their tax returns and ICAEW said action was needed immediately.
Frank Haskew, Head of Taxation Strategy at ICAEW, said:
“As the 31 January self assessment deadline approaches, we urge HMRC to take immediate short-term action to solve its customer service problem, and ease the pressure on taxpayers who seek to comply with their tax obligations.
“The current and long-standing level of customer service is unacceptable but unsurprising, given the reduction in staff at HMRC. Our members tell us they are waiting for up to a year to receive written responses to technical queries, which is just not good enough.
“We also want HMRC to fix the long-standing systemic problems that put additional demands on an already-overstretched department.”
HMRC customer service staffing levels have reduced from 25,500 to 19,500 people, leading to long delays for agents and taxpayers as they seek updates.
There are a number of long-term systemic problems to be fixed, including poorly-designed IT systems and gaps in online services. When HMRC introduces new online services, it should not cut staff and resources in anticipation of reduced customer service demand, as experience has shown high demand often remains while services settle in, the Institute said.
ICAEW has long raised concerns about these issues, while the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has expressed “serious concerns” about customer service at HMRC.
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