The tax authority has responded to the Adjudicator’s annual report, noting the changes that it has made to complaint handling and how it learns wider lessons.
The role of the Adjudicator was created in 1993 to introduce an independent tier of complaint handling for HMRC. The Adjudicator resolves individual complaints that have already been through the two tiers within HMRC and highlights trends in both customer service and complaint handling. HMRC resolves 98% of complaints before reaching the Adjudicator.
Adjudicator Helen Megarry published her annual report for 2020/21 in July 2021 and a business plan for 2021-2024 in September. HMRC has now published its response to the annual report.
The Adjudicator received 1,277 complaints for investigation about HMRC, an increase of 46%. This is largely accounted for by complaints about the COVID-19 support schemes. Around a quarter (24%) of complaints were upheld, a reduction from 35% in the previous year. The lower-than-average upheld rate for the COVID-19 complaints reflects the fact the majority were effectively challenges to the statutory eligibility criteria. The Adjudicator provided real-time feedback on COVID-19 complaints.
An online option to make a complaint to the Adjudicator was introduced in January 2020 and two-thirds of complaints are now made using the digital service.
Learning from complaints
An Adjudicator’s policy formulation thematic report in 2019 highlighted that the application of policy needs to be more customer-focused, mentioning the approach to the high income child benefit charge in particular. The Adjudicator commented that, despite initially being slow to act, she has seen significant activity by HMRC to understand what went wrong and how to learn lessons for the future.
ICAEW’s Tax Faculty suspects that the introduction of the capital gains UK property reporting service will come to the Adjudicator’s attention in due course.
Both HMRC and the Adjudicator mention the role of the Complaints Insight Board in driving forward changes to practice, policy, culture and learning from complaints. The revised Charter, published in November 2020, is also seen as an important part of HMRC’s response. The Adjudicator notes that: “From a customer perspective it may take time before many of these changes have an impact”.
The annual report highlights two areas where HMRC can improve the way it handles complaints:
- the relatively high number of complaints escalating to the Adjudicator prematurely. In response, HMRC has updated its customer correspondence and complaints guidance pages on GOV.UK;
- examples of where HMRC should have identified customers who need extra help. In response, HMRC published its new principles of support for customers who need extra help and refined the GOV.UK guidance on getting help from HMRC if you need extra support
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