HMRC helplines leave you hanging on

Ahead of the self-assessment tax return deadline on 31st January, Which? has found the chances of getting through to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) helplines are a lottery. 

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. In nearly a third (29%) of our calls, we were cut off by the automated system before we could speak to anyone, with callers being told it was because the helpline was ‘very busy’.

In the 71 calls where we did manage to get past the automated system, we were then put on hold. On average it took us 18 minutes to speak to a real person but on one call we were left waiting for 41 minutes.

Typically, we found the later in the day we called, the longer the wait and the more likely we were to be cut off.

The automated system also struggled with certain words and phrases. A query about ‘my tax code’ was fine but when we asked ‘Do I need to pay tax on premium bond winnings?’ it asked if we were calling about changing a name, or about a VAT surcharge notice.

In a separate survey of Which? members, one in five (20%) who had contacted HMRC in the last year said they found contacting them difficult, compared with 15% of those who contacted the Department of Work and Pensions, 12% who contacted their local authority and 8% who contacted the DVLA.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“We’ve found people could face lengthy waits or even be cut off when trying to get assistance from HMRC’s helplines. With large numbers of people soon to be seeking help with their self-assessment tax return, we want to see HMRC doing more to monitor and improve their call-waiting times.”

We have shared our investigation with the Treasury and HMRC and have also briefed the Public Accounts Committee.

Notes to editors:

1.    Which? has a free-to-use tax calculator and online advice to help people ensure they’re not overpaying their tax at www.which.co.uk/taxcalculator.

2.    The HMRC voice-recognition system was introduced in November 2013 to help cut overall call times, but clearly there are still issues. Official figures show that, in the first half of 2014, just 74.5% of calls to HMRC were answered, compared with a target of 80%.

3.    Methodology: We made 100 calls to the helplines for self-assessment (0300 200 3310) and general enquiries (0300 200 3300) in late September and early October 2014 (50 to each number). Callers rang to ask about their tax code, or whether they had to declare premium bond prizes. We called on different days of the week and at different times of day. Calls were timed from the point we dialled to the point we spoke to an adviser.

4.    Methodology for Which? member survey: We surveyed 1,023 Which? members, 728 of whom had contacted a public body in the last year, in June 2014.

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