HMRC slammed as phone line waits get even longer

Nearly two-thirds of callers to the tax authority had to wait longer than 10 minutes to get through.
HMRC slammed as phone line waits get even longer
A woman at home on hold on her mobile phoneGetty Images

Customer service at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is at an all-time low as phone line waiting times continue to deteriorate, according to MPs.

Nearly two-thirds of taxpayers were forced to wait more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser, a committee found.

MPs launched another blistering attack on HMRC years after declaring its hold music was among the most streamed.

HMRC said its digital services provided answers to millions of queries and was “highly-rated”.

The average wait for a call to HMRC to be answered was 16 minutes and 24 seconds in the year to April 2023, according to the report by the Public Accounts Committee. That compares with 12 minutes and 22 seconds the previous year.

Some 63% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser, up from 46% in 2021-22. The committee said this proportion had increased every year since 2018-19.

“Almost eight years have passed since our committee challenged HMRC over its telephone lines’ holding message being one of the most streamed pieces of music in the country,” said Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee.

“Our latest report into its performance sadly illustrates a continued tale of decline in its services.”

Online shift

The tax authority has long-documented difficulties in swiftly answering calls. It sparked controversy when it closed its main self-assessment helpline over the summer, and encouraged people to use a chatbot instead.

It has used an answer by text service and told MPs that it did not have the resources to meet rising demand. It said it received more than three million calls on resetting online passwords, getting tax codes, and checking National Insurance numbers, all of which could easily be done via digital channels instead.

The committee said that more people were being drawn into paying tax, known as fiscal drag, and their tax affairs were becoming more complicated. As a result HMRC’s customer service was “struggling to cope” and taxpayers were left “exasperated” by the quality of support.

Among the other issues highlighted in the report, published on Wednesday, were:

  • Taxpayers being pursued by HMRC for trivial amounts of debt
  • The tax authority’s stated focus on prosecuting the most serious cases, leading to fewer prosecutions, which MPs said risked “sending the wrong message” to criminals
  • HMRC being too slow to identify the scale of errors and fraud in the system

In May, the BBC revealed how Cardiff flat owner Dylan Davies received 11,000 tax bills from HMRC over the course of six months, after Chinese companies fraudulently used his address to register for VAT.

Dylan Davies holding dozens of letter in each of his hands

The committee highlighted a case in which a taxpayer received more than 10,000 letters due to an agent registering companies for VAT at the taxpayer’s address rather than a serviced office that shared the same postcode.

“These cases create particular distress for innocent citizens receiving these demands for payments, and an extraordinary amount of time and effort to resolve with HMRC,” the committee said.

The MPs said that the distress caused to innocent people was not being taken seriously enough.

A spokesman for HMRC said it was making strong progress on improving customer services, with a focus on digital services.

“Millions more people used our highly-rated online services last year – saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisers to deal with those people who need extra support,” he said.

“People used our app and online services more than 200 million times last year with an 80% satisfaction rate, while three-quarters of all customer correspondence was answered in 15 working days – a significant improvement on the 45% in 2021-22.”


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