Accountants are struggling to work with HMRC at even the most basic level and are calling for urgent improvement.
The overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents to an ACCA survey said that HMRC needed to make drastic improvements across at least three key areas including reducing call waiting times, improvements to call handling systems such as call queue information and call back options, and improved communications with greater use of email.
Just over half (52%) of respondents said HMRC service levels were negatively impacting productivity and efficiency, either directly or for their clients.
HMRC service levels have become increasingly difficult to manage for many ACCA members in recent months. One respondent based in the southeast said: ‘I now resort to raising a formal complaint every time HMRC ignores its own deadlines. It’s the only way I get an actual outcome.’
Glenn Collins, head of technical and strategic engagement at ACCA, said: ‘Many of our members have raised with us, over a number of years, their struggles and difficulties in working effectively with HMRC services.
‘There is often despair when accountants and financial professionals have exhausted all other routes and have to contact HMRC, as they know they are likely to end up wasting many hours sorting basic tax issues, costing time and money for themselves, their clients and also HMRC.
‘The key changes ACCA is calling for in HMRC services are improvements to communications. More effective working with qualified accountants, more use of email, and an improvement in response times to all communications would greatly ease the difficulties our members have expressed.’
At a time when businesses are feeling the squeeze of rising inflation, accountants are forced to spend many hours trying to contact HMRC – time that could be better spent helping their clients and businesses in a difficult economic climate.
HMRC has pointed to increased demand for their services and plans to invest in more online self-service capability to reduce pressure on call centers. It also plans to reduce the number of telephone advisers with use of call centers set to fall by 30% by the end of 2024.
At a Treasury Committee hearing last month, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told MPs: ‘We are not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through traditional channels of phone and post so our strategy is to reduce contact demand and to push as much as possible on to digital and online services.
‘We estimate we need to reduce contact by 30% by the end of next year to hit our service standards with the reduced resources that we have.
‘We have to swim against the current and bring it down so it is 30% lower otherwise we cannot meet service standards. Some of that demand is not necessary. We get about three million calls a year that could do through digital services, with customers asking what’s my national insurance number, what’s my tax code, how do I change my password.’
ACCA accountants raised many concerns about HMRC and said they struggled for weeks or even months to get simple actions dealt with such as VAT registration numbers and authorizing a tax agent.
The difficulties experienced when working with HMRC to resolve tax enquiries were summed up by one respondent from London who said: ‘The inefficiencies of HMRC are costing the government money.’