Britons spent 798 years on hold waiting to speak to HMRC advisor, report reveals

Britons spent 798 years on hold waiting to speak to HMRC advisor, report reveals

Taxpayers are facing much longer waiting times on HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) helplines than in recent years, a new report shows.

Research from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that customers were waiting an average of 23 minutes just to get through to an adviser in 2023-24. This was up from only five minutes the year before – an increase of nearly 20 minutes.

The spending watchdog suggests that HMRC “cannot be certain that tax revenue is not suffering as a result” of the customer service inefficiency. The NAO report points out that the majority of calls made to their helplines are from customers looking to rectify tax errors or chase progress.

The report also found that UK customers spent a combined 798 years holding the line for an HMRC advisor in 2022-23, more than double the time spent in 2019-20.

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The HMRC has been attempting to improve its digital services in recent years, encouraging customers to seek resolution online before getting in touch over the phone.

While the NAO’s report acknowledges that this may serve some customers’ needs better, its findings show that changes may have gone too far, too fast.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO said: “HMRC’s telephone and correspondence services have been below its target service levels for too long.

“While many of its digital services work well, they have not made enough of a difference to customers, some of whom have been caught in a declining spiral of service pressures and cuts. HMRC has also not achieved planned efficiencies.”

HMRC offers a range of online services that aim to make resolving tax-related queries simple and accessible. Online accounts can be made online for services such as self-assessment and PAYE.

All of its services are available on the government’s website, including a ‘digital assistant’ which answers queries via online form, with no human interaction.

However, in March the tax authority was forced to U-turn on plans to entirely close their self-assessment entirely following an outcry over the plans.

HMRC said last year it received more than three million calls on just three things that can easily be done digitally: resetting an online password, getting a tax code and getting a national insurance number.

While permanent secretary Jim Harra has said that the authority still aims to close its helpline eventually, he recently welcomed a £51m package to improve the service, saying:

“This additional funding will enable us to improve our helpline service for those who need to speak to us – including the vulnerable and digitally excluded – making sure they get the support they require.”

Responding to the NAO report, an HMRC spokesperson said: “While customer service standards on our phone lines are still not where we want them to be, we’re making strong progress in our efforts to improve our customer service and additional funding has been confirmed by the Government this week.

“Millions more people used our highly-rated online services last year – saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisers to deal with those people who need extra support.

“We continue to encourage people to deal with us online or via the app where they can and we are working to provide even better, easier and always-available online services. But, as we have recognised, these changes need to happen at a speed and in ways that our customers are comfortable with.”