HMRC helplines leave people hanging

Ahead of the self-assessment tax return deadline on 31st January, we’ve found that people trying to reach Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) could face a lengthy wait. 

We made 100 calls to HMRC’s self-assessment and general enquiries helplines to see how easy it is to get through to an adviser. On average it took us 38 minutes to speak to a real person – more than double the time we waited last year, with nearly one in five (18) of our calls not answered within an hour.

We found that the later in the day we called, the longer we had to wait. Before 2pm the average wait was 28 minutes but after 6pm it increased to 61 minutes. The longest we had to wait was 1 hour and 16 minutes.

When we carried out the same investigation in 2014 the average wait time was 18 minutes, with nearly a third (29) of calls cut off before we got through to someone. In the last year, HMRC has changed its phone system to allow people to hold for longer rather than being cut off at busy times, so while wait times went up this year, only seven calls were cut off.

Which? has a free-to-use tax calculator that helps people to check if they’re overpaying tax online rather than waiting on hold to HMRC helplines.

A separate survey of Which? members who have rung HMRC within the past 12 months found that less than one in ten were happy to wait on hold for longer than 10 minutes, with six in ten (58%) saying they’d only want to wait up to five minutes. In our investigation, not one call was answered within 15 minutes.

HMRC told us that it has recently recruited 3,000 more staff into customer service roles available outside normal office hours which it says is starting to have an improvement. However it recognises that there is still more to be done to improve customer service levels and reduce waiting times.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: 

“Our findings show how difficult it is to get through to HMRC’s helplines with people facing lengthy waits. With many people soon to be seeking advice on their self-assessment tax return, HMRC must continue to work hard to improve customer service and reduce call-waiting times.”

In addition to our free tax calculator, Which? has advice on the self-assessment tax return at

Notes to editors: 

  1. Methodology: We made 50 calls to HMRC’s general enquiries helpline (0 300 200 3300) and 50 calls to HMRC’s self-assessment helpline (0 300 200 3310) between 25 September and 2 October 2015 at designated times of day.Of calls we made that were answered, 54 were made before 2pm, 28 were made between 2pm and 6pm and 11 were made after 6pm. We recorded the time taken from dialling to speaking to an adviser.
  1. Methodology for Which? member survey: In October 2015, we surveyed 245 Which? members who had contacted HMRC by telephone in the last 12 months.

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