HMRC’s Customer Service Crisis – Government Injects £51m to Address Soaring Wait Times

In March earlier this year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) faced a public relations debacle when it announced the closure of several helplines, only to reverse the decision the next day. This incident, although embarrassing for the involved parties, including pre-informed ministers, resulted in a positive outcome for both HMRC and taxpayers. The government has now allocated an additional £51 million to HMRC to improve its phone line service levels, targeting an 85% call answer rate.


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The Funding Challenge: Improving HMRC’s Phone Service

The immediate challenge lies in how HMRC will utilise the additional £51 million. Performance improvements will take time, requiring not just an increase in staff but also enhanced training and support. HMRC staff receive weeks of tax training before handling public queries, depending on the complexity of their role.

Taxpayers Left Waiting

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently highlighted the severity of HMRC’s customer service issues. According to the NAO, taxpayers collectively spent nearly 800 years (7 million hours) on hold in 2022-23, a staggering increase from 3.2 million hours in 2019-20. Average call waiting times have surged by over 350% in five years, with only 67.2% of callers reaching an advisor in the first 11 months of the 2023-24 tax year, far below the 85% target.

HMRC’s Shortage of Staff

The NAO report attributes HMRC’s declining performance to funding pressures, job cuts, and an over-reliance on digital services. Customer service staff numbers fell by 9% between 2019-20 and 2023-24. Despite spending £881 million on customer service in 2022-23, HMRC faced a 6% real-terms budget cut since 2019-20 and was expected to make further savings of £149 million annually. This led to plans for a 14% reduction in customer service staff by 2024-25.

HMRC’s Digital Services

While HMRC encourages the use of digital services for straightforward queries, the increasing complexity of tax affairs means many taxpayers still rely on phone support. The NAO report and feedback from tax experts emphasise the need for significant improvements in digital services and the continued availability of phone and postal support.

Expert Opinions and Recommendations

Tax experts and MPs have called for a radical improvement in HMRC’s customer service. Richard Wild of the Chartered Institute of Taxation noted that while the £51 million funding is welcome, it merely slows the pace of cuts. Caroline Miskin from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales stressed the need for HMRC to enhance its digital offerings and maintain traditional contact methods during the transition.

Robert Palmer of Tax Justice underscored the necessity of adequate funding and modern tools for HMRC to meet its service targets. MPs on the Treasury select committee echoed these sentiments, urging HMRC to better communicate its plans to move customers online.

Expert London Tax Litigation Lawyers

Navigating the complexities of HMRC’s processes and the broader tax system can be daunting, especially given the current service challenges. At LEXLAW, we specialise in tax litigation services and can help you efficiently manage your tax affairs. Our expert team stays updated on HMRC policies and provides personalised support, ensuring you meet your obligations without unnecessary stress or delays. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you with all your tax-related needs.

Way Forward for HMRC and Taxpayers

The additional £51 million in funding for HMRC marks a crucial step towards improving customer service. However, the path to reaching the desired service levels will be long and requires strategic investment in training, support, and digital infrastructure. Taxpayers and professionals alike will be closely monitoring HMRC’s progress in the coming months.

Expert Tax Investigation Lawyers

If you need HMRC Tax Investigation advice, we are available to aid you at every stage of the HMRC investigation process. Members of our legal team have first-hand experience and knowledge of the internal workings of HMRC. We can provide you with the very best representation in negotiations with HMRC and defending all forms of HMRC fraud, tax inquiry, tax fraud investigation, criminal tax evasion and HMRC enquiries and investigations. Our team specialises in successfully challenging HMRC decisions and will assist you in every aspect of the investigation. Our specialist Tax Solicitors and Barristers deliver expert technical knowledge, strong negotiation skills and respected advice, which can make a pronounced difference to eventual tax penalties, charges and liability.

We provide urgent advice and representation to clients from our unique expert team of established Tax and Duties specialist solicitors and barristers with a proven track record of delivering authoritative results. Just call us on 0207 1830 529, or email [email protected].

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