Government commits £51m to bring HMRC phonelines up to ‘performance standards’

Ministers have announced that, while department remains committed to becoming ‘digital-first tax administration’ and promoting transition to online services, money will be invested in boosting telephony to meet required levels

Government is to provide HM Revenue and Customs with an extra £51m in funding to help the department’s phonelines improve customer-service performance and hit targets that are currently being missed.

The department’s most recent monthly statistics – for February 2024 – show that, of the two million callers who asked to speak to an HMRC adviser, only two thirds were able to do so – a figure which is almost exactly in line with the aggregate performance over the first 11 months of the 2023/24 year.

Since last April, the 67.2% of calls that have been successfully answered is well below the department’s 85% target.

Despite such difficulties, in March the department announced that, following trial closures last year, it planned to significantly scale back its telephone support services, with the aim of directing people to use online services instead. The plans – which, following sharp criticism, were cancelled the day after being announced – included scaling back HMRC’s VAT support line, while closing the income tax self-assessment helpline entirely for half the year, and limiting it priority calls only during the other six months.

The tax department had previously been tasked with cutting its customer-service headcount by 5,000 but, after deciding to keep its under-performing phonelines fully operational, chief executive Jim Harra last month told a parliamentary committee that he was “making preparations on the assumption that I will be able to deploy additional resources, whether that comes with additional funding or whether it comes from reprioritising”.

In a statement to parliament this week, financial secretary to the Treasury Nigel Huddleston confirmed that Harra and his organisation will, indeed, be given extra cash to invest in its call centres – with the aim of improving its performance to meet the target minimums.

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“The government is clear that, while HMRC continues to make this digital transition, customers deserve a reliable and responsive service on traditional contact methods such as the phone lines,” he said. “Therefore, today the government is providing HMRC with £51m in new funding to bring HMRC’s phoneline service back up to the published target of 85% of calls to HMRC advisers being answered. Today’s additional funding enables HMRC to meet the performance standards on its phone lines that its customers expect, while continuing the transition to a digital first model of tax administration. The government is fully committed to providing HMRC with the resources it needs to meet the needs of all its customers, and will continue to do so.”

While it is taking steps to improve the service offered by its telephone helplines, the minister also stressed that nothing has changes in the “the department’s strategy… to become a digital-first tax administration”.

“This involves helping customers move to online services with the aim to make services easier for customers, and for HMRC to operate more efficiently,” he added. “Last year HMRC received over three million calls on just three things that can easily be done: resetting an online password, getting a tax code, and getting a National Insurance number. Shifting customer contact such as this to online interactions is helping to, and will continue to help, reduce demand on phone lines and allow HMRC to prioritise calls for those who really need to speak to an adviser. This is a fine example of a tangible way to improve public sector productivity.”

Sam Trendall

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