HMRC SMS Service extended
In an attempt to tackle the ongoing issue of long wait times for callers to its helplines, HMRC introduced an automated SMS service on a trial basis in late January. According to the statistics, the results of this SMS Service were promising, leading to faster resolution of taxpayer queries. The scheme has now been extended, following this initial success.
If the extension of the SMS Service legitimately reduces caller wait times and increases service levels, that’s great. However, we’re approaching this extension with a degree of scepticism, as we’re not entirely convinced that it will!
Only time will tell, and that needs HMRC to have the resources to reopen all its phone lines, as it currently has several on limited service, and for wait times to reduce and remain at acceptable levels throughout the annual cycle.
Expanding the trial; what to expect
Building on the deemed success of the initial trial, HMRC has extended the SMS Service from May 4th 2023. During this extension, taxpayers will have the option to receive a text message link or remain on the phone to wait to speak with an operator for what it classes as routine queries.
These queries include:
- obtaining a proof of entitlement document for child benefit
- checking national insurance records
- managing marriage allowance
- verifying voluntary national insurance payments
- receiving information about response times from HMRC
The expanded SMS Service will also include automatic redirection to HMRC’s digital services for additional inquiries. This will cover areas such as claiming tax credits, where taxpayers will be directed to benefits entitlement information on gov.uk, and requests for state pension forecasts.
Additionally, taxpayers seeking help with their self-assessment tax returns, queries about registration or completion of tax returns, or those who have lost their national insurance number will have the option to either remain on the call or be redirected to online services.
Evaluating the success of the trial
As HMRC aims to become a “digital by default” organisation, it was pleased that the trial delivered faster service to taxpayers, while it allowed its phone operators to focus on the more complex queries.
Richard West, the director of personal tax operations at HMRC, expressed his satisfaction with the new SMS service, saying that it directs individuals to the quickest source of answers, thereby reducing the need for prolonged waiting times.
However, as we mentioned initially, it’s important to note that the trial is still in progress, and its true impact will only become apparent over time.
HMRC reported that during the first two months of the trial, approximately 180,000 taxpayers received SMS messages. While this is bound to have had a positive impact on reducing the number of callers that needed to be spoken to, it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions. The initial trial was also conducted during a period of the year when the percentage of ‘routine queries’ would have been far higher than at other times.
Navigating the path to ‘Digital by Default’.
HMRC’s ambition to become a “digital by default” organisation is clear from recent initiatives, such as the mandatory online submission of all P11Ds.
It did initially make the decision though to remove the option of downloading paper self-assessment returns, only to reverse that decision later. This can lead to an element of doubt around the commitment to that ambition.
While these digital services primarily target taxpayers, accountants are also being forced to use online services. As part of what HMRC deem to be ‘encouragement’, the Agent Dedicated Line has been temporarily restricted until June 2nd, theoretically allowing HMRC operators to prioritise calls related to self-assessment late-filing penalties and PAYE coding notices.
While HMRC’s online services have been well received by users, boasting an overall satisfaction level above 80%, there are challenges.
For example, the performance report from February highlighted that out of 2.4 million calls made to the phone lines, only 64.7% were connected to an adviser.
Despite these issues, HMRC’s online services have received high ratings from users, with consistent overall satisfaction levels above 80%. In the previous tax year alone, they were used 134 million times by 19.3 million taxpayers. Additionally, an impressive 97% of self-assessment customers now file their tax returns online.
But, please remember…
While HMRC’s automated SMS service should definitely increase convenience and efficiency, it’s vital to remember that you still need to exercise extreme caution when receiving text messages claiming to be from HMRC.
Please remember that legitimate messages from HMRC will deal with the specific areas mentioned above, and you should only follow links in emails or messages that you’re expecting.
As always, any unsolicited messages received that you’re not expecting should be treated as potential scams and promptly deleted. This extension of the SMS Service trial is likely to increase the number of such messages in circulation, as the scammers are opportunists, so please be careful, and check with us if you receive anything that you’d like us to review before you provide any response.
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