A lengthy performance update from HMRC reveals that some progress has been made in recovering performance and HMRC expects to restore normal service levels by April.
However, the target five-minute average waiting time would still appear to be some way off. ICAEW members also report being told that certain pieces of post will not receive a reply until the autumn.
ICAEW welcomes the fact that HMRC has been engaging actively with professional bodies and is making strenuous efforts to improve the situation within its resource constraints. But it remains concerned about the impact of HMRC delays on taxpayers and firms.
The average speed of answering calls in the October to December 2021 quarter was improved at around 10 minutes, compared to 11 minutes in the previous quarter and 15 minutes in January to March 2021. Year-to-date performance is 12 minutes’ waiting time, similar to the 2020/21 performance. HMRC no longer provides a breakdown of waiting times across different helplines.
The number of callers waiting more than 10 minutes remains at an unsatisfactory 40%. The percentage of calls answered has gone up to 82% in the quarter from an average of 74% in April to June.
HMRC expects “to be delivering normal (pre-pandemic) performance across our core service lines by the start of the new financial year”. It is not clear whether this includes restoring helpline hours to what they were, something that ICAEW is calling for.
Most of the recent feedback from ICAEW members has concerned very lengthy delays to HMRC dealing with correspondence. HMRC advises that it is on course to reduce the volume of post on hand to under 2m items by the end of March. This represents one month’s worth of correspondence and is the level at which HMRC was operating pre-pandemic.
During the quarter, the volume of post that was turned around within 15 working days was 43.4%. This conceals some significant variations, with the figure for personal tax being below 30%.
HMRC trialled closing the VAT and corporation tax helplines for selected Fridays in December. It considers this to have been a success, as it allowed HMRC to focus on processing corporation tax repayments and VAT post, which have been areas of particular concern. Those helplines will be closed again on Fridays between 25 February and 25 March (excluding bereavement for VAT). VAT helplines will also be open on 4 March. ICAEW would be alarmed if such closures were to become a regular occurrence.
HMRC has also focused on other areas, such as self assessment registrations and issuing unique taxpayer references, income tax repayments, and claims for employment expenses. The problem areas reported by members now appear to be correspondence that falls outside these high-volume areas, in particular anything that needs a technical response.
HMRC has paused most webchat services until the end of March 2022 to allow it to fully review them. ICAEW was surprised to learn that webchat does not offer HMRC the efficiencies it had previously indicated. ICAEW understands that the services will be restored, but probably in a different form.
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