HMRC takes action after sharp rise in waiting times on digital tax helpline

Written by Sam Trendall on 5 July 2019 in News
News

Between January and May, amount of calls answered within five minutes dropped from 44% to 3%

 

Credit: Pxhere/CC0

After waiting times for its VAT helpline rose sharply in the early months of 2019, the head of HM Revenue and Customs said that the department has been “working hard” to remedy the situation.

Evidence provided to the Treasury Select Committee by HMRC permanent secretary Sir Jon Thompson shows that, in January 2019, the mean waiting time for the 54,340 calls made to the VAT helpline stood at six minutes and 57 seconds. 

In the year’s opening month almost two thirds – 64% – of calls were answered within 10 minutes, and the remaining 36% had to wait no longer than 20 minutes.

The average waiting time shot up to 11 minutes 16 seconds in February, and continued rising until May, by which time it had reached 16 minutes and 19 seconds. 

During May, 91% of callers to the helpline were held for more than 10 minutes, including 20% whose call took in excess of 20 minutes to be answered.


Related content


Just 3% of calls were answered within HMRC’s target of five minutes – compared with 44% in January. This is despite the monthly volume of calls received – 44,382 – being almost 10,000 lower than at the start of 2019.

The rise in waiting times coincided with the implementation of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT. All VAT returns for periods beginning on 1 April or later must now be filed via the digital system.

“I am aware that some callers have experienced extended waiting times on our VAT helpline,” Thompson said, in a letter to the committee dated 18 June. “This falls short of the standards of service we want our customers to experience. I’d like to reassure you that we have been working hard to bring the waiting times down and improve performance. In the last week we have started to see positive results from that, with waiting times falling to around our target of five minutes. It is too soon to be confident that we have resolved the issue, and we continue to monitor it very closely.”

Measures taken include doubling from 100 to 200 the number of agents dedicated to the VAT helpline. Even more staff are deployed during peak times, Thompson said.

“HMRC’s telephony performance has been impacted by ongoing recruitment and staffing shortfalls,” he added. “Recruitment for a no deal EU exit was slower than expected, and so we had to divert resource from business as usual in February and March. This meant that some of the people earmarked for training on MTD were diverted onto the government’s operational priority of no deal. Since the EU exit extension was agreed in April, we have been training staff on MTD and increased numbers to those originally planned.”

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

Share this page

Tags

Categories

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

HMRC still searching for new digital chief
15 October 2019

Jacky Wright’s duties are being covered internally ‘in the very short term’ 

HMRC floats £24m in contracts to support key digital platforms
10 October 2019

Up to four suppliers to be appointed to deals to provide services for digital tax and transaction-monitoring systems

Related Sponsored Articles

"Cyber crime is big business": Cyber awareness month
22 October 2019

As part of October’s Cyber Security Awareness Month, BT is sharing their top tips on how keep information secure for both you and your organisation 

Protecting what matters most: Security for growth
15 October 2019

Security can help you grow whilst protecting the very core of your organisation, writes BT 

Secure SD-WAN: Security by design
8 October 2019

BT looks at how to secure your SD-WAN services, starting with security by design 

Cloud security – it’s not black and white
1 October 2019

Nigel Hawthorn looks at how to review cloud use, report on risks and apply policies to reduce likely data loss incidents in this latest insight from BT