HMRC Customer Service Needs to Improve

Public Accounts Committee report into HMRC customer serviceA damning report from the Public Accounts Committee has said that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) must do better.

The Public Acconts Committee’s 36th report of this session noted that in the period 2011-2012 HMRC had failed to answer 20 million phone calls.

That figure amounted to around one quarter of the 79 million phone calls receieved in that period.

HMRC customers had allegedly incurred costs of £136 million whilst waiting for calls to be answered.

Additionally, around one third of all letters were not ansered within HMRC’s 15 day period. The target is to respond to 80% of written queries within the stated timeframe but that figure fell to 66%.

Abyssmal Customer Service

Margaret Hodge MP, the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts was damning of the service, saying:

“HMRC’s ‘customers’ have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department. It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter.”

“In 2011-12, 20 million phone calls were not answered. It cost the callers £136 million while they waited to speak to an adviser. And, against its target of responding to 80% of letters within 15 days, the department managed to reply to just 66%. This is an abysmal record.”

Hodge did, however, speak positively about efforts to address the problem, with HMRC saying that it had spent around £900 million on customer service in the 2011-2012 period:

“We are pleased to see signs that HMRC is changing its attitude. Officials are beginning to realize that good customer service lies at the heart of any strategy to maximize revenues while cutting costs.”

“It’s good news for those trying to phone the department that they will no longer be forced to use the more expensive 0845 numbers. Other planned changes include the resolution of more queries first time and a call-back service where this is not possible.”

Bu then Hodge turned on the taxman again, adding:

“However, HMRC’s new target of answering 80% of calls within five minutes is woefully inadequate and unambitious. The department should set a more demanding target in the short term and a long-term target that is much closer to the industry standard of answering 80% of calls within 20 seconds.”

“Just how the department is going to improve standards of customer service, given the prospect of its having fewer staff and receiving a higher volume of calls, is open to question. HMRC plans to cut the number of customer-facing staff by a third by 2015. At the same time, the stresses associated with introducing the Real Time Information System, Universal Credit and changes to child benefit are likely to drive up the number of phone calls to the department.”

Closures

Last week HMRC announced that it was closing all of its 281 Enquiry Centres which provided face-to-face tax help to around 2.5 million people.

The move, due to complete next year, will see 1,300 HMRC staff lose their jobs, although HMRC was keen to point out that these staff would be deployed elsewhere in the service.

Losing the face-to-face customer service is expected to save HMRC £13 million a year but will inevitably put further strain on the phone service.

HMRC is also likely to come under more pressure when its Real Time Information (RTI) service goes live next month, putting the already under fire service under even greater stress.

Hodge continued:

“HMRC considers that it will be able to improve service standards by reducing avoidable contact with customers and using its staff more flexibly. It may need to put in additional resources, though, to avoid the kind of plummeting performance we have seen in the past.”

Read the full report HMRC: Customer service (PDF)

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