UK taxpayers left on hold for 800 years, says spending watchdog

Screengrab from HMRC website
Screengrab from HMRC website Copyright Screengrab from HMRC website
Copyright Screengrab from HMRC website
By Euronews
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In a damning report, the UK's public spending watchdog - the National Audit Office (NAO) found HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) customer service was "in a declining spiral" and had not met its goals for responding to taxpayer correspondence or telephone calls for several years.

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The report by National Audit Office revealed that customers cumulatively spent 798 years on hold waiting to speak with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in 2022-23 – more than double the time spent waiting in 2019-20.

The public spending watchdog said that a variety of factors had contributed to poor call handling performance by HMRC. They included funding pressures, job cuts and a drive to reduce costs by encouraging people to manage their tax affairs online.

The average time spent waiting on the phone to speak to an adviser in the 11 months to February 2024 was almost 23 minutes, the NAO said, well above the five minutes recorded in 2018-19. During the same period, HMRC answered only 67% of calls from taxpayers, compared with a target of 85%. 

In March 2024, HMRC announced that it would restrict a number of its helplines to address both the funding pressures it faces and the backlog of queries. It later reversed its decision one day after announcing the changes to the public.

The head of the National Audit Office, Gareth Davies, said: "HMRC’s telephone and correspondence services have been below its target service levels for too long.

"While many of its digital services work well, they have not made enough of a difference to customers, some of whom have been caught in a declining spiral of service pressures and cuts. 

"HMRC must allow more time for these services to bed in and understand the difference they make before adjusting staffing levels."

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