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HMRC’s telephone and post performance remains poor


Published: 27 Aug 2021 Update History

HMRC has published its performance data for April to June 2021 and highlighted some welcome improvement in call answering. However, the details show that considerable problems remain and ICAEW members continue to report poor experiences in telephone and post handling.


In a commentary on its performance statistics for April to June 2021, HMRC highlights “considerable improvements” in customer service levels. However average call waiting time was 13:38 minutes, which is far higher than the previous 5-minute standard and only slightly better than the 15:23 minutes seen in January to March 2021. The monthly figures do show that waiting times reduced by more than half from 19:25 minutes in April to 8:45 minutes by the end of June.

However, HMRC has diverted 5,000 staff to deal with COVID-19 support and the performance on the COVID-19 helpline is considerably better than on other lines, with a waiting time of 1:16 minutes by the end of March. Post Brexit, the capacity of the customs and international trade helpline has also been expanded and has a short waiting time. But these developments have had an impact on increasing waiting times on other helplines.

Unlike previous years, HMRC has not provided a breakdown of waiting times across different lines, but the diversion of resources goes some way to explaining why ICAEW members’ experience of the performance of the PAYE/self assessment, employers PAYE and other helplines is much worse that the headline numbers quoted (particularly before the welcome restoration of priority to the agent dedicated line in mid-June 2021).


Faced with a poor telephone helpline performance, agents and taxpayers will inevitably attempt to resolve the matter by writing to HMRC. Most of the recent feedback to the Tax Faculty suggests that members are experiencing long delays in HMRC dealing with correspondence, with many of the reported delays being extreme.

The latest data confirms that from April to June 2021 HMRC turned around just 35% of correspondence within 15 working days, a worse performance than throughout 2020/21.

Debt collection and compliance

Between April and June 2021, compliance yield remained lower than its usual pre-pandemic level, at £7.4bn. However, HMRC expects yield to recover over the course of the financial year and to be in line with Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts.

As previously announced, HMRC intends to restart debt enforcement activity from September 2021. By the end of June 2021 HMRC’s debt balance was £50bn, down from £57.5bn at the end of March and 31% lower than the highest level seen during the pandemic (£72bn in August 2020).

Most of the reduction is due to the unwinding of the COVID-19 payment deferral policies for VAT and self assessment.

ICAEW members are continuing to feel the impact of poor HMRC service performance. The Tax Faculty continues to engage with HMRC the problems members are experiencing and to press HMRC for further improvements to be made.

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