Spending watchdog blasts HMRC over customer service failures

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The Public Accounts Committee – responsible for overseeing government expenditure – has previously called HMRC’s customer service levels “unacceptable”.

HMRC’s performance data shows that average call waiting times at the tax office have more than trebled last year, from five minutes 14 second in 2020-21 to 16 minutes 24 seconds, with average wait times exceeding 20 minutes in the last quarter of the 2022-23 financial year.

Demand for phone services grew by 9pc last financial year, and HMRC admitted in its accounts that it will “take some time” to encourage taxpayers to use its digital-only services as it continues to either temporarily or permanently close phone lines. 

It comes as the tax office closed its self-assessment helpline over the summer, and earlier this year permanently closed its VAT helpline. HMRC also plans to hire 1,630 temporary staff each month between April and this September to meet extra demand. 

Despite hiring new staff to cope, the tax office has cut its customer-facing staff from 25,500 to 19,500 over the last five years as it has moved to digital systems.

On average only 47pc of the staff were working in the office in June, according to HMRC data. In one week in February, the percentage of staff in the office was as low as 11pc.

Meanwhile, HMRC’s annual report shows around £5bn of Government-backed Covid-19 loans was written off to fraud last year. Its Taxpayer Protection Taskforce, set up after the pandemic, has so far only clawed back around £520m in fraudulent loans. 

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