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COVID-19 support hits HMRC service levels

3 September: The diversion of resources to deliver the government’s coronavirus support schemes had a significant impact on HMRC’s service performance in Q2, with call waiting times reaching close to 12 minutes.

HMRC’s service performance data for April to June 2020 reveals the average speed of answering calls increased to almost 12 minutes, double the time taken in January to March 2020 and well in excess of the target of five minutes. Almost half (47%) of callers waited more than 10 minutes before they spoke to an adviser.

The measures that HMRC needed to take included reducing operating hours and re-deploying advisers to new helplines for the support measures. Helpline hours continue to be reduced, but ICAEW’s Tax Faculty understands that HMRC hopes to extend the hours within the next couple of months (although not immediately to their previous level).

HMRC’s telephone system was not set up to allow advisers to answer calls to the main helplines from home. HMRC is testing allowing advisers to answer calls from home, but it is not a straightforward exercise. HMRC is encouraging the use of webchat as that can be handled by advisers based at home.

As ICAEW members in practice have reported, the agent dedicated line was also affected, with waiting times of 17 minutes in April, 28 minutes in May and 11 minutes in June.

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of call attempts to HMRC helplines (8.7m) was down significantly on the equivalent quarter in 2019 (12.3m).

Post handling performance held up better, with HMRC’s system for scanning post and allocating it electronically resulting in 84% of post being cleared with 15 working days of receipt.

This performance needs to be seen in the context of unprecedented and unforeseeable circumstances and HMRC has published a narrative alongside the data to provide that context. This highlights the development and implementation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme alongside more than 60 other provisional policy changes and easements to help respond to the impact of the pandemic.