HMRC is failing to answer its phones and is not doing enough to tackle tax fraud

Hayley Kirton
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Alistair Darling Unveils The 2009 Budget
Which? found itself hanging on the telephone for 38 minutes on average (Source: Getty)

No matter how bad your commute has been, your morning is still probably better than that of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) – after two separate reports highlighting the UK tax authority's shortcomings were released today.

The National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that, while taxmen and women had come a long way in their compliance efforts, there was still more to do.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said:

HMRC has met its targets to raise more tax revenue in the short-term. It now needs to consider whether its overall strategy is designed to achieve the best long-term outcomes. We will be evaluating HMRC’s performance in tackling different types of tax fraud in more depth. As we do so, we will be looking for further improvements in the way HMRC uses data and analysis to understand the effect of its actions in both the long and short-term.

The study also noted that nearly half of the estimated £34bn tax gap – the difference between the amount HMRC actually collects per year and the amount it should have collected – could be attributed to fraud.

Read more: Tax system gets a digital makeover

Meanwhile, Which? turned its attention to HMRC's helplines and discovered callers could expect to wait an average of 38 minutes to speak to a real person, more than double the 18 minutes they found themselves put on hold for last year.

"Our findings show how difficult it is to get through to HMRC’s helplines with people facing lengthy waits," remarked Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director.

"With many people soon to be seeking advice on their self-assessment tax return, HMRC must continue to work hard to improve customer service and reduce call-waiting times."

Commenting on the NAO report, an HMRC spokesperson remarked:

Additional funding and new measures contained in the Summer Budget and Autumn Statement are allowing HMRC to crack down further on the hidden economy, get tougher on offshore evasion, and increase the number of prosecutions of wealthy tax evaders. The small minority who persist in dragging their feet, hiding or helping others to hide their money and assets at home or abroad, now face increased financial penalties and risk criminal prosecution.

Responding to the Which? findings, an HMRC spokesperson said the figures were outdated and that the tax authority had ramped up its service more recently to bring its average queue time down to six minutes.

Read more: PAC: HMRC letting down UK taxpayers

The spokesperson continued: "Our service levels were not good enough at busy periods earlier this year, and we have apologised for the inconvenience caused to our customers.

"We took major steps to improve, including the recruitment of 3,000 new staff into customer service roles, and we expect service levels to continue to rise."

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