The high staff turnover at HMRC due to cuts to the department's expenditure budget is causing concern among practitioners.
The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) is worried that the cuts are placing unsustainable strains upon the department's ability to operate the tax system effectively, by putting additional pressure and stress on its frontline staff.
The organisation's concerns follow recent publication of figures indicating an increase in the number of resignations from HMRC in 2012-13 - a total of 1,697 staff left in 2012-13, the largest figure since 2008-09. The greatest losses were in HMRC's personal tax division, which saw 1,238 resignations.
Recently the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised HMRC for poor customer service levels and taking too long to answer calls from taxpayers.
Yvette Nunn, president of the ATT, said that heavy losses in staff and increasing pressure on those remaining has diminished HMRC's capacity to provide an acceptable level of service.
'Digitalisation is often advanced by both the government and HMRC senior management as the best way of cutting costs and streamlining public services. The ATT recognises the benefits which may in future be reaped from an effective and user-friendly digital tax service.
'However, HMRC's digital service is simply not sufficiently mature to allay concerns over diminishing staff levels and long waiting times. The numbers speak for themselves; HMRC only expects 80% of calls to be answered within five minutes so at least one in five of the calls that a call centre officer takes will be from a taxpayer who has already waited over five minutes to speak to a human being.
'Whilst digitalisation may eventually bring significant benefits to taxpayers and HMRC alike, it is essential that the call-centre method of communication on which taxpayers currently have to rely is properly resourced. Callers must know that they will get through to an officer who is able to deal with their query. Otherwise, they will lose confidence in the department and that can ultimately lead to non-compliance.
'It is in the Exchequer's interest to have a properly resourced HMRC. We understand why HMRC resources have to be committed to tackling non-compliance and harnessing the power of digital communication but that must not be at the expense of today's compliant taxpayers who simply want to speak with someone to keep their tax affairs in order. Giving HMRC staff the job satisfaction that they deserve is a vital step in maintaining public confidence in our tax system,' said Nunn.
The Public Accounts Committee's report, Charging for customer telephone lines, can be read HERE