HMRC quality of service 'collapses'
Everyone likes hating the tax man... and this article will be no different. A report has found that the quality of service provided by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for personal taxpayers has "collapsed" thanks to staff cuts.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said that HMRC has got appalling timing, and that they got it wrong when they were implementing their digital strategy. It's all very well moving a load of personal taxpayers online, so you can reduce the need for staff to handle phone queries and postal requests... but you might want to let the new system bed in, first.
The NAO said: "The quality of service provided by HMRC for personal taxpayers collapsed in 2014-15 and the first seven months of 2015-16 when average call waiting times tripled."
"Services have subsequently improved following the recruitment of additional staff but whether this performance is sustainable depends on HMRC achieving successful outcomes from its programme to make tax digital."
The audit office deduced that the overall cost incurred by customers who phoned the tax office helpline increased from £63 million in 2012-13 to £97 million in 2015-16.
This estimate includes call charges, which stand at a whopping £10 million, and the value of customers' time while they were waiting to speak to a HMRC adviser at £66 million. Add to that, the value of time spent actually talking to advisers, which is £21 million.
So while the HMRC introduced automated telephony and paperless self-assessment in 2013-14, the demand for the old services didn't drop as quickly as HMRC initially estimated.
While the HMRC met their target of handling 80% of call attempts, their performance deteriorated over the first seven months of 2015-16, with average waiting times tripling compared to the levels recorded in 2014-15.
In the Autumn of 2015, HMRC recruited 2,400 staff to deal with phone calls, which improved service.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "HMRC's overall strategy of using digitally enabled information to improve efficiency and deliver service in new ways make sense to the NAO."
"This does not change the fact that they got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably. This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount."
"HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards".