HMRC helplines cuts to be permanent

HMRC, News, Payroll, Personal Tax, VAT,

PLEASE NOTE: This post has been superseded within 24 hours after HMRC changed its mind in the face of an outcry over its original decision. Please see this post for the latest news.

In 2023, HMRC closed the Self Assessment helpline between 12th June and 4th September as part of a purported trial. They’ve now announced that this will become a regular closure, between 8th April and 30th September every year. There will also be permanent cuts to both the VAT and PAYE helplines.

While the helplines are closed, taxpayers will be directed to self serve through HMRC’s online services.

The closures above are part of a range of changes announced, as follows:

  • Between 1st October and 31st January, the self assessment helpline will be open to deal with priority queries around completion of a Tax Return or making a tax payment.
  • In February and March the self assessment helpline will deal with penalties and appeals.
  • When the helpline is open, queries that can be ‘quickly and easily resolved online’ again will be directed to the online services.
  • The VAT helpline will be open for just five business days every month ahead of the deadline for filing VAT Returns. Outside of these dates, customers will again be directed to use HMRC’s online services.
  • The PAYE helpline will no longer take calls from customers relating to refunds who will instead be directed to the online services.

HMRC claims the impact of these changes ‘will be monitored and reviewed’ as it said the initial trials would be. It claims the move to online self service is a ‘vital element’ of the modernisation of the tax system, and would allow taxpayers ‘to access the information they need more quickly and easily by going online or to the HMRC app.’

HMRC’s Deputy Chief Executive, Angela McDonald, said ‘Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisers to focus support where it is most needed – helping those with complex tax queries and those who are vulnerable and need extra support.’

She doesn’t explain how people with complex Self Assessment queries can make contact to resolve them when the Helpline is closed and it takes months to gain any response to correspondence…

Our View…

As we outlined in the post linked above, we’re not fans of the HMRC helplines cuts at all, and believe HMRC’s logic around them are fundamentally flawed. Here’s why…

  • The Press Release detailing the HMPRC Helpline cuts is entitled ‘HMRC encourages customers to interact online with changes to its Self Assessment, PAYE and VAT services.’ Removing the option is not ‘encouragement’, in the same way that taxpayers are not ‘customers’! There’s no choice of whether to deal with HMRC, so let’s stop the PR speak and call it what it is, an imposed change of behaviour.
  • Restricting access to HMRC support will cause bottle-necks, additional delays and discourage taxpayers from making contact with HMRC, asking questions and fulfilling their obligations. HMRC are consistently given extra funds to address the tax gap, but this is likely to worsen if there is no access to ask questions.
  • We had clients during the closure last year who were unable to claim large refunds to which they were entitled. That should be deemed important enough to gain access to someone, but they had to wait until the helpline reopened. Webchat, the App and written requests were all unable to resolve the issue in all cases.
  • There is no plan from HMRC to review the impact of the closure last year any further, though there is a chance that it’s full impact will only become clearer over time.
  • HMRC has promoted the fact in their Press Release that more people met the 31st January filing deadline for their tax return, despite the closure of the helpline over the Summer of 2023, but they haven’t been as vocal around the increase in the numbers of people who missed the deadline.
  • Many of the online self-serve options need considerable attention before they can be deemed fit for purpose. There is no way this will be completed before the helpline closes in just a couple of week’s time.
  • HMRC’s own evaluation of the closure in 2023, and the restrictions as we approached the end of January 2024 concluded that it was too early to confirm if there was a permanent shift to online self service from helpline contact, but despite acknowledging this, they’re going ahead anyway.
  • Commentators in our industry are rightly raising complaints, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any change to the announcements.
  • Chair of the Treasury Select Committee Harriett Baldwin commented ‘This should not be forced upon tax payers until there is evidence that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC’s incredibly complex website.’ We quite agree!

Let’s hope common sense prevails and we hear of another U-turn around these HMRC helplines cuts very soon! We will of course keep you posted if there are any further announcements.

If you have any queries relating to your personal tax return or your VAT, we’re here to help whether HMRC are or not, so please get in touch. Whilst we don’t process or get involved with payroll, we can put you in touch with some support if you need it, so we’re here to help, all year round!

Should you wish to do so, you can read HMRC’s full 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…