HMRC helplines cuts ‘misguided’

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) has strongly criticised the announcement by HMRC of big, permanent cuts to their taxpayer telephone helplines.

HMRC has announced:

  1. The Self-Assessment helpline will be closed between 8 April – 30 September 2024. Taxpayers will be directed to self-serve online. The helpline will be open between October and March to deal with priority queries, with other calls being directed to HMRC’s online services.
  2. The VAT helpline will close permanently on 8 April, save for the five business days leading up to and including each month’s submission deadline. Again, taxpayers will be directed to self-serve online.
  3. From 8 April, the PAYE helpline will not deal with calls to chase PAYE refunds (unless the caller cannot go online or needs extra support). Once again, taxpayers will be directed to self-serve online.

The digital assistant and webchat will remain available, and Self-Assessment and VAT callers who cannot go online can speak to someone via the Online Services Helpdesk.

These are all permanent measures and so are expected to be repeated each year. There are no further changes to the Agent Dedicated Line at present.

CIOT President Gary Ashford said: “We are deeply dismayed that, so soon after the criticisms levelled at them by the Public Accounts Committee, and in the light of an inconclusive evaluation, HMRC have decided to make these big, permanent cuts to the help they provide to taxpayers. If last year’s announcement of the summer closure of the Self-Assessment helpline was a ‘flashing indicator’ that HMRC can’t cope, today’s announcements are a blinding light.

“HMRC’s own evaluation of both the closure of the helpline in summer 2023, and the helpline restrictions during the 2024 Self-Assessment peak, concluded that it is too early to say if there has been a long-term shift from phone contact to online self-service. Yet HMRC have decided to go ahead anyway.”

HMRC’s evaluation also demonstrated a firm desire on behalf of taxpayers and agents to deal with a real HMRC person. During the summer 2023 Self-Assessment helpline closure, 68% of people who used the Self-Assessment digital assistant asked to speak to a webchat adviser, and stated preferences for phone contact approximately doubled. Recent customer research from HMRC identified that the need for reassurance is either very important (83%) or somewhat important (15%) when dealing with HMRC online.