Accountants have criticised HMRC plans to move call handlers off the SA helpline to deal with a huge backlog of inbound letters that are more than a year old
HMRC’s special plan to deal with correspondence, which is over 12 months old is simply too little, too late, says tax and advisory firm Blick Rothenberg, as a lack of funding and staff cuts need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Despite attempts to move taxpayers on to digital services and online, HMRC receives over 18 million letters a year with the latest performance report showing that the amount of correspondence had actually increased by around 15% on the previous year.
Robert Salter, a director at Blick Rothenberg, said: ‘The plan does nothing to resolve the service issues which are found throughout HMRC which are frustrating UK businesses and individuals and costing innocent taxpayers heavily.
‘The HMRC plan simply involves the Revenue pulling away resources from their phone lines and other teams to deal with the unanswered correspondence.
‘The reality is without the helpline a lot of people who might well have prepared a tax return in the summer, will not, as they don’t have the safety net of a call to HMRC to guide them through.’
The longer term trajectory looks like HMRC will try to reduce use of phone helplines, with the aim to force people to use online services or webchat to resolve queries as it struggles to deal with overwhelming demand from taxpayers and service levels decline.
‘HMRC point to using online resources, but their search tool is poor and there is so much information on the website, even knowing what you are looking for it is hard to find. HMRC’s plans for making tax digital is just not working,’ added Salter.
‘As other HMRC teams will – realistically – have less resources whilst this special team for ‘old correspondence’ is operating – one has to assume that the regular HMRC teams will be even slower in responding to outstanding enquiries, which in many cases may already be six or nine months old.’
‘This is simply a case of HMRC ‘robbing Peter, to pay Paul’. The approach isn’t addressing the fundamental issues faced by HMRC which include a lack of staff, often limited training, and poor technology.’
The backlog of post was exacerbated by the pandemic when offices were closed.
Salter said: “If the government is serious about making Britain an attractive place to do business, it needs to ensure that HMRC is properly funded, so that they can be adequately resourced, trained and supported from an IT perspective.’