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HMRC Allocates £45 Million to Help Improve Phone and Post Service - Will it Work?
26/06/2015, by Lee Sharpe, Tax News - HMRC Administration, Practice and Methods
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HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has announced it is allocating £45 million to improve customer service, as it released statistics which showed an inconsistent call handling performance in 2014-15. The allocation is paying for around 3,000 additional staff to join customer service teams, on top of around 2,000 staff who are being moved over from other parts of HMRC to help with the tax credits deadline and letters and forms.

HMRC receives more than 60 million calls a year, peaking around key deadlines such as 31 January for Self Assessment, and 31 July for tax credits renewals.

HMRC says that the statistics show that while 73 per cent of calls were answered last year, service standards were inconsistent across the year, with some months falling well short of HMRC’s 80 per cent target. The figures also show that in some months as many as one in five customers heard a busy tone and could not join a phone queue.

Lin Homer, HMRC Chief Executive, accepted that standards had not been good enough and outlined the actions that HMRC has already taken to improve customer service, including recruitment and investment in technology.

Ms Homer said:

"Despite our best efforts, our call performance hasn’t been up to scratch and we apologise to all those customers who have struggled to get through to us.

Good customer service is an absolute priority for HMRC. We set ourselves the target to answer 80 per cent of calls, to provide a more consistent level of service across the year and to reduce peaks and troughs in service levels between busy and quieter times.

While we were successful in tackling the busiest peaks for Self Assessment and tax credits customers, we didn’t meet our call handling target overall and we didn’t provide the consistent service to which we aspired.

We have gripped this issue and recruited around 3,000 new staff in our customer operations and moved around 2,000 people from other parts of HMRC temporarily to support customer service in the run-up to the 31 July tax credits deadline.

We are already seeing the benefit of this, and we are answering 60-70 per cent of calls on tax credits helplines. Tax credits renewals overall are more than 211,000 up on the same time last year.

We have also invested in new telephone equipment, which lets us switch calls to many more offices, not just take them in contact centres, so more of our staff can help customers at the busiest times.

Our new online services are also giving customers new and better ways to deal with HMRC and I urge all customers who can go online to do so. For services like tax credits, it’s quick, simple and can be done anywhere any time, including from a smart phone.”

So far this year, 265,000 tax credits customers have already renewed online, against 97,000 at the same point last year. Satisfaction rates with the online service are high, at around 80 per cent."

TaxationWeb's Mark McLaughlin said,

"While any further investment in HMRC's telephone service which results in improved answering times is welcome, it is not yet clear how much of this figure of £45 million is "new money", over the £34 million investment promised in 2012 (although that was originally forecast for 2012/13 and 2013/14). It is also worth noting that in late 2012, HMRC was setting itself the target of answering 90% of calls first time - which is, I understand, the industry norm. Now the target has fallen to 80%. 

One has to wonder about the impact of re-allocating scarce resources away from other of HMRC services to prioritise answering calls - which other services will suffer?

Finally, I would re-iterate what I said in 2012: it's not just about how quickly a telephone call is answered, but - more importantly - the quality of the advice given when you do get through."

HMRC 2014-15 Call Handling Statistics

Month

Total attempts

Calls answered

Calls not answered including busy

Calls receiving a busy message

Not answered excluding busy

January 2014

6,235,426

5,500,619

88.2%

734,807

11.8%

238,246

3.8%

496,561

8.0%

February 2014

4,145,294

3,771,903

91.0%

373,391

9.0%

74,452

1.8%

298,939

7.2%

March 2014

4,307,819

3,928,317

91.2%

379,502

8.8%

61,907

1.4%

317,595

7.4%

April 2014

5,095,731

4,081,321

80.1%

1,014,410

19.9%

351,099

6.9%

663,311

13.0%

May 2014

5,452,297

4,337,610

79.6%

1,114,687

20.4%

367,511

6.7%

747,176

13.7%

June 2014

6,849,850

4,715,031

68.8%

2,134,819

31.2%

1,161,855

17.0%

972,964

14.2%

July 2014

7,340,281

5,667,938

77.2%

1,672,343

22.8%

774,922

10.6%

897,421

12.2%

August 2014

4,634,461

3,707,218

80.0%

927,243

20.0%

329,947

7.1%

597,296

12.9%

September 2014

6,858,670

4,495,340

65.5%

2,363,330

34.5%

1,427,047

20.8%

936,283

13.7%

October 2014

5,179,412

3,685,910

71.2%

1,493,502

28.8%

637,284

12.3%

856,218

16.5%

November 2014

4,332,162

3,182,803

73.5%

1,149,359

26.5%

462,966

10.7%

686,393

15.8%

December 2014

3,466,205

2,520,293

72.7%

945,912

27.3%

346,630

10.0%

599,282

17.3%

January 2015

6,026,899

3,944,292

65.4%

2,082,607

34.6%

799,640

13.3%

1,282,967

21.3%

February 2015

4,197,438

3,068,291

73.1%

1,129,147

26.9%

201,225

4.8%

927,922

22.1%

March 2015

5,349,341

3,559,799

66.5%

1,789,542

33.5%

384,526

7.2%

1,405,016

26.3%

2014-15

64,782,747

46,965,846

72.5%

17,816,901

27.5%

7,244,652

11.2%

10,572,249

16.3%

 

Notes

  1. The £45 million comes from the current spending settlement and is not additional revenue from the Treasury. It covers the cost of paying for the recruitment of around 3,000 additional staff this year and for allocating around 2,000 staff from other HMRC business areas.
  2. In 2014 HMRC introduced a new telephone system which allocates calls across the UK network to provide the fastest-possible response time. 
  3. The latest figures show a steady improvement in call answer rates; the tax credit helpline is currently answering around 60-70 per cent of calls.
  4. If a call isn’t answered first time, it does not mean that the caller’s issue is not dealt with. Most will call back and get through on a subsequent attempt, or use online services.
  5. HMRC prioritises supporting customers with the most immediate deadlines, so performance will vary across different helplines. For example, calls to the Self Assessment helplines ahead of the 31 January deadline will be prioritised over tax credits, PAYE and Child Benefit lines; and tax credits customer helplines will be prioritised in the weeks leading up to the 31 July deadline.
  6. As a result we answered 89 per cent of tax credits calls on the 31 July 2014 deadline day and 99.9 per cent of Self Assessment calls on 31 January 2015 deadline day.
  7. There are alternatives to phoning us. Last year 410,000 (12 per cent) of tax credits customers renewed their claims online and 85 per cent of Self Assessment taxpayers sent in their returns over the internet. This year 265,000 tax credits claimants have already renewed and notified us of changes in circumstances online – almost three times more than at the same time last year.
  8. 1.3 million people have already renewed their tax credits across all channels – 211,000 more than at the same time last year
  9. Around 80 per cent of those using HMRC’s online service for renewing tax credits reported they were happy with the process which took on average 15 minutes to complete. 

About The Author

Lee is TaxationWeb's Articles & News Editor and writes for TaxationWeb. He is a Chartered Tax Adviser with experience of advising individuals and owner-managed businesses over a broad spectrum of tax matters.
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