In its report HM Revenue & Customs: Customer Service Performance issued yesterday, the National Audit Office has found that "despite improvements, customers are still not getting a good service":
- In 2011-12, HMRC answered 74% of calls and surpassed its lower interim target of just 58%. The commercial standard is to answer 90% of calls
- But 20,000,000 calls went unanswered - over 50,000 per day
- In providing these figures, HMRC assumed that people hanging up while listening to the pre-recorded messages were "answered", rather than frustrated.
- But the average wait time has increased from 107 seconds in 2009/10 to 282 seconds in 2011/12. "Performance can be substantially worse than average in some months and at peak times. For example, between April and September 2012, nearly 6.5 million people (25 per cent) waited longer than 10 minutes."
- This figure ignores the substantial duration of the pre-recorded messages. For example, the VAT helpline's message lasts several minutes, depending on the options selected.
- Customer costs incurred waiting for HMRC to answer the telephone are estimated at £33 million for the cost of the call, and a further £103 million for the value of the customers' time lost.
- HMRC is still using 0845 numbers on most of its services, which can prove to be very expensive for callers using mobile 'phones.
- The NAO is clearly concerned that HMRC will struggle to cope with the anticipated increase in demand on its services in the coming year, with the introduction of Real Time Information, Universal Credit, and the Child Benefit High Income Charge.
It is quite surprising that HMRC treats people hanging up as being answered. For some taxpayers this assumption may prove correct if the pre-recorded messages have dealt with their particular query. Or they may simply no longer need to have their question answered - perhaps because they have gone out of business waiting for HMRC to answer the 'phone.