As many of our clients will agree, getting in touch with HMRC has become more difficult than ever in recent months. It’s not unusual for us to hear that they’ve held for well in excess of half an hour, and beyond an hour is not unheard of either!
The latest performance figures confirm that call waiting time for HMRC has worsened.
That said though, HMRC handled over 2.5 million calls on its COVID-19 helpline during the height of the pandemic until the end of the 2021 financial year. These calls ranged from helping those worried about paying their tax due to the pandemic to answering questions about the various government support schemes.
More than 5,000 customer advisers were put onto the helpline at the start of the pandemic and HMRC has continued to prioritise this service.
The most recent wait time for this line was reported as one minute and 16 seconds. The COVID-19 helpline also handled around half a million webchats and delivered an overall customer satisfaction rating of 95%.
This focus on the COVID-19 helpline impacted on services elsewhere however.
By the end of Q4 of the 2021 financial year, PAYE and self assessment taxpayers were typically experiencing average call waiting times of 28 minutes, compared to nine minutes in the 2019 / 2020 year.
During the pandemic HMRC reported a record high customer satisfaction with its digital services; 85.2% on average across the financial year (83.3% in Q4). It also introduced a range of new digital services during this time, like digital stamps to avoid paper handling, a virtual assistant to handle routine self assessment and tax credits queries like password resets and payment date queries. It also increased its webchat capability, handling more than 3 million chats in 2020 / 2021, compared to 1 million in 2019 / 2020.
Despite the push towards digitalisation of the tax system, HMRC received almost 1.3m items of post in March 2021 and 35.8% was turned around within 15 days. This of course means that two thirds of post took longer to handle.
This was markedly down on last year where nearly 80% of post was handled within 15 days.
This reduction is understandable given working from home restrictions, social distancing and COVID restrictions, but explains why we’ve seen so many matters take much longer than usual to resolve!
One of the key metrics that will ring alarm bells in the Treasury is the final statistic from the report.
HMRC collected £191billion in tax during Q4 of the financial year to April 2021, which was more than the £176.4bn collected during the same period in 2020. By the end of the financial year, £585bn in tax had been collected, a significantly lower figure than the £633.4bn collected in the last financial year.