HMRC has struggled to maintain business-as-usual service levels during the coronavirus pandemic and cannot improve services as envisaged in its Charter without more resource, warns ICAEW.
After gathering feedback from ICAEW members, the Tax Faculty has written to HMRC’s Charter Stakeholder Group outlining concerns about how HMRC performed against its Charter during 2020/21.
Published in November 2020, the Charter outlines what taxpayers can expect when interacting with HMRC. It includes standards of behaviour and values, such as getting things right, making things easy and being responsive.
In ICAEW Rep 43/21, ICAEW acknowledges that HMRC deserves commendation for its work in delivering COVID-19 financial support schemes, but concludes that this has come at the expense of its standard work with the day-to-day experience of taxpayers and agents continuing to deteriorate.
It concludes: “HMRC’s performance against the standards in the Charter reflects the limited resources available to it, with the result that it has struggled to provide a satisfactory level of operational business-as-usual performance let alone update its systems to improve online services for taxpayers and agents.
“The government has provided some funding, but substantial improvement is likely to take the 10 years envisaged in the tax administration strategy.”
ICAEW warns that poor systems and inadequate training mean that HMRC’s staff are not able to deliver the commitment to “get things right” in the Charter. It highlights data processing in PAYE real time information, self assessment calculations and out of date tax codes as examples of long-standing issues caused by HMRC systems.
Furthermore, the faculty argues: “HMRC has considerably more work to do to live up to the Charter standard to make things easy, in particular in relation to online services.”
It cites the trust registration service and the online portal for reporting capital gains, as examples of new services that have not only failed to make tax administration any easier, but actually introduced “many additional problems”.
In examining HMRC’s responsiveness, ICAEW argues that HMRC needs to focus on returning services to pre-pandemic levels. “Taxpayers need a commitment from HMRC about when service levels (and helpline hours) will return to target standards, and in particular when priority access might be restored to the agent dedicated line.”
While it struggled to maintain service levels during 2020/21, ICAEW confirms that HMRC has generally been able to meet its commitments to treat taxpayers fairly and with respect, being aware of taxpayers’ personal situations (particularly the impact of COVID-19) and keeping data secure.
On its commitment to recognise that taxpayers can be represented by another, ICAEW concludes that while this is often met, there are: “…instances where gaps in online services for agents and cumbersome agent authorisation processes mean that, in practice, it is often made very difficult to be represented by a third party.”
ICAEW’s response will inform the Charter Stakeholder Group’s evaluation of the extent to which HMRC has demonstrated the standards of behaviour and values in its Charter. The group’s conclusions will be published in an Annual Report later in 2021.
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