HMRC call centre connection times deteriorate

One in five taxpayers are not satisfied with HMRC’s digital services despite the tax authority’s push to move all services online, while wait times to speak to an adviser worsened in February with nearly a third of callers waiting more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser

At the same time, call centre response times have worsened this month, with the average speed of answering a call worsening from five minutes 14 seconds to six minutes, 27 seconds, well above HMRC’s target five-minute waiting time. This is nowhere near the performance in 2015-16 when average answer times were 12 minutes but HMRC did work to improve this with substantial investment in technology, automated call services and more call centre staff to improve response times.

However, although taxpayers are getting through to the service, they face longer waits to actually speak to an adviser as response times only illustrate time waiting to reach the automated service. Nearly a third of callers – 29% - have to wait more than 10 minutes to speak to an HMRC official, which is nearly double the number waiting this long in 2017-18. The call wait worsened significantly in February, up from 19.8% to 29% of taxpayers waiting more than 10 minutes, compared with HMRC’s target connection time of five minutes.

Pressures of Brexit queries and Making Tax Digital implementation dates have contributed to the deterioration in service as the tax authority has been reassigning staff to Brexit transition and no deal planning and preparation.

An HMRC spokesperson told Accountancy Daily: ‘Over the past 12 months, the average wait times for our helplines have been around our target of five minutes. We know that at busy times some customers have to wait longer, and we are doing all we can to keep all waiting times as low as possible.

Despite the push to online services, HMRC is still having to deal with large volumes of post and is falling well behind its target of dealing with 80% of post within 15 days of receipt. It received more than one million items of post in February for which customers require a response.

HMRC dealt with 64.8% of customer post within 15 days, leaving over 300,000 letters unanswered.

Despite the level of dissatisfaction with digital services, there has been good take-up of personal tax accounts, HMRC reported.  

While company registration for Making Tax Digital for VAT has been slow with the majority of companies required to report VAT digitally still not registered, there has been strong interest in HMRC’s digital tax accounts with nearly half of taxpayers now signed up for the service.

The number of individuals signing up for personal tax accounts has hit 18.8m, up nearly 25% on the same time last year when total number stood at 14.7m, out of 30.3m UK wide taxpayers. Digital tax accounts were first launched in 2015 and are optional for taxpayers; each account amalgamates records for taxpayers including tax and NICs from different employment sources and income streams.

‘The numbers of customers using our digital services continues to increase, and we carry on improving these services in line with customer feedback,’ HMRC added.

Report by Sara White

Corporate report, HMRC monthly performance update: February 2019

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