Third of calls to HMRC handled by automated service

Third of calls to HMRC handled by automated service

Mar 19, 2024

In the busy self assessment period in January, HMRC redirected over a third of calls to automated systems, while 841,000 calls were not answered

Average wait times were 25 minutes, up from 20:21 minutes a year ago, and a sign of deteriorating service levels. In addition, 71% of callers had to wait more than 10 minutes to get through to an agent, worse than last January’s 68% figure. This number is a stark reminder of how service levels have deteriorated as the average for 2022/23 was 46%, although anecdotal evidence shows members of the public and accountants can wait up to an hour for a response.

Taxpayers are still calling HMRC in large numbers despite helpline closures and a concerted attempt to limit use and access to phone lines, as well as huge pressure from senior management to move services to digital only. This situation will only get worse as more taxpayers get dragged into higher rate tax brackets.

HMRC call handlers dealt with 1.49m calls, and abandoned 841,945 calls in January, which was an improvement on April 2023 when the figure was 1,177,709, the first month the data was published.

However, there was a massive campaign to put people off calling HMRC in January so it will be another month or so before it will be possible to see if the digital drive is having an affect on the public and agents.

In total, HMRC received 3.68m calls in January, down from 4.18m a year ago, and redirected 1.34m to its automated response services, the largest figure ever. This was up from 1.02m in April 2023, the first month HMRC started publishing the number.

The long-term goal is to reduce phone usage by at least 40% by the end of the 2024/25 tax year and direct the majority of people to the gov.uk website to find information.

When the volume of calls directed to automated services is taken into account, there were no signs of any improvement to answer or waiting times, despite the fact HMRC argues that it wants to focus its call handlers on enquiries from taxpayers with more complex issues, rather than the third who mainly want to change or can’t remember their password, and want to update their address.

In recent months, for the first time HMRC has split out phone satisfaction levels which showed the level of taxpayer dissatisfaction with the service on offer, marking it at minus 24 on the Net Easy ranking. There has been little change in this figure for the last six months although it dropped to minus 19.8 in July when HMRC shut down the majority of its phonelines except for limited services. The phone figures were reported in a single number with webchat and digital services before April 2023.

MPs on the Treasury Committee recently issued their annual HMRC performance report, saying that service levels were the worst for five years. They said this was exacerbated by HMRC and Treasury having made a ‘conscious choice‘ to reduce the amount of telephone support and advisers on the lines, despite demand rising by 10% and taxpayers facing increasingly complex tax scenarios which they are unable to resolve online.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee, said: ‘Almost eight years have passed since our Committee challenged HMRC over its telephone lines’ holding message being one of the most streamed pieces of music in the country. Our latest report into its performance sadly illustrates a continued tale of decline in its services.

‘Our Committee has heard the frustration felt by the many taxpayers and organisations who provided evidence to our inquiry loud and clear. HMRC would be well-advised to do the same.