Calls to HMRC Last Year ‘Cost Personal Tax Payers £97 Million’

May 25, 2016

Making phone calls to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) cost UK personal tax payers as much as £97 million over the course of the year 2015-16.

That’s according to official figures on the subject from the National Audit Office (NAO), which has criticised the government’s main tax-gathering body for laying off customer service staff too quickly in recent years.

HMRC reduced numbers among its personal tax workforce from 26,000 to 15,000 between the years 2010-11 and 2015-16, with the hope being that greater automation and digitisation of personal tax systems would enable customer service standards to be maintained.

However, the NAO has said that “the quality of service provided by HMRC for personal taxpayers collapsed in 2014-15 and the first seven months of 2015-16”.

It is estimated that during this period, the average length of a call to an HMRC personal tax service line tripled in terms of duration and the costs to consumers involved in the process have therefore increased very considerably.

Indeed, the costs of making calls and the lost time spent waiting on the line with HMRC personal tax advisors is estimated to have risen by around a half between 2012 and 2016.

“They got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably,” said Amyas Morse from the NAO.

“This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount. HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards.”

Gillian Guy from the charity group Citizens Advice reacted to the NAO’s findings by suggesting that the issues affecting HMRC services are yet another potential cause of debt problems for UK consumers.

“Long waiting times not only cause frustration and increase the cost of the call, but can also mean people miss important deadlines,” she said.

“For example if you don’t return your tax form on time you face a fine – which for some households can be an additional cost they can’t afford to pay.”

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