HMRC officials have defended its decision to close all its enquiry centres, with the last ones shutting their doors this week, saying they are confident its revamped contact centres will be able to handle customer calls satisfactorily
In evidence to the House of Lords select committee today - where HMRC senior officials were being questioned over the tax department's business plan - Ruth Owen, HMCR’s director general, personal tax, said the department’s consultation had shown that most taxpayers preferred to phone or go online if they had questions and that usage of the inquiry centres had reduced significantly.
‘In some cases only a handful of people were coming to the centre each day and often that was only to use the phones or to ask about online options.
'We are looking closely at what services are required face-to-face, but our pilot showed that other options worked well,’ Owen said.
Stephen Griffiths, tax partner at Milsted Langdon, said: ‘The closure of the enquiry centres means that people will now have to rely on the authority’s normal helpline number, or if unable to use the phone or hard of hearing, they will be able to book a face-to-face appointment with one of HMRC’s mobile teams by using an online form from the HMRC website.
'As accountants we hope that HMRC is fully resourced, with the personnel available to deal with the increase in enquiries to their enquiry service.’
Members of the select committee also challenged HMRC’s performance in its contact centres, saying that the latest figures show one in five calls go unanswered and that as a result it had been ‘too hasty’ in closing the enquiry centres.
In response, Owen said HMRC was ‘on a trajectory to improve’, with year on year performance improving, from a low point of 48% of calls answered first time to this year’s target of 88%.