HMRC Helpline U-Turn!

HMRC, News, Personal Tax, VAT,

Not 24 hours ago as I write this, HMRC announced closures of the Self Assessment Helpline, the VAT Helpline and the PAYE Helpline.

The accounting industry went ballistic, the Treasure Select Committee were unimpressed, and there were calls for an immediate U-turn.

In our own post on the subject, produced yesterday, we hoped that ‘common sense would prevail’, and that exact phrase has been used by the Treasury Select Committee today in reaction to the U-turn!

The Background…

In 2023, HMRC closed the Self Assessment Helpline over the Summer. There were lots of complaints and issues where tax payers couldn’t resolve problems and, most importantly for us, gain access to refunds to which they were entitled.

HMRC billed the ‘trial’ as a success, and announced yesterday that the helpline would close each year from April to September. They also announced other changes, including the closure of the VAT helpline, other than for just five business days a month.

The immediate reaction was hugely negative, and there were calls for the decision to be reversed, in much the same way as the recent furore over the tax treatment of Pick-up trucks.

The U-turn…

Following the outcry from all directions, HMRC has now announced that the changes to the helplines will be ‘halted’ while HMRC discusses how to ensure all taxpayer’s needs are met. They will consult with stakeholders, which, incredibly, they hadn’t done previously.

Jim Harra, HMRC Chief Executive, said that while ‘making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity’, the rate of this change ‘needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online’.

He went on to say ‘We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.’

In our view, not only does the rate of change need to match the public appetite, but the options need to be fit for purpose, and provide credible alternatives.

At the moment there are functions performed by the helpline that simply aren’t available through the online options. Until they are, these closures need to be indefinitely postponed and existing services maintained at current levels at the very least, as they are poor themselves, requiring persistence and long hold times.

The Treasury Select Committee’s reaction…

Yesterday’s announcement drew criticism from the Treasury Select Committee, who today said they were ‘extremely pleased to see that common sense has prevailed. We welcome the decision to reverse yesterday’s ill-advised announcement. Whilst we do not oppose expansion of digital services for those who want to use them, we remain entirely unconvinced that HMRC is adequately prepared to impose such a significant change in how it serves taxpayers.’

The statement went on to say ‘Planned changes to the operations of HMRC’s phonelines have been mismanaged from the beginning. Questions still remain over the extent to which the department are prioritising its own needs over those of law-abiding and vulnerable taxpayers.’

We quite agree!

Why did HMRC not consult before making such an announcement? What a waste of time for all involved, and what a negative impact this will have had, yet again, on the department’s credibility.

We debated how best to approach this latest update on our site, whether to remove the original post, or combine this with it, but decided a new post is simply the easiest option. It’s a story that is not going away, simply being paused for now we think, so, as always, we’ll keep you updated as things progress!

You can see today’s Press Release here.

Business News

We send regular updates that keep clients aware of changes and suggestions on a wide range of subjects; if you’d like to receive those too, just add your details below and we’ll do the rest! We promise not to bombard you and you can unsubscribe at any time.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
If you've found this post helpful, please share it with others…