HMRC attacked for customer service failures

HM Revenue & Customs has an “abysmal record” on customer service, according to a report released today by MPs, who found the tax authority fails to answer a quarter of its phone calls and takes weeks to reply to some letters.

The public accounts select committee said that despite spending £900m on customer service in 2011-12, more than 20m of the 79m calls to the service were not answered. Lengthy hold times mean taxpayers spent £136m on phone calls while waiting to speak to an HMRC worker.

“HMRC’s ‘customers’ have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department,” said committee chair Margaret Hodge.

“It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter.”

Just two-thirds of letters received a reply within 15 days.

In response HMRC has promised to instigate a call-back service for customers whose queries cannot be resolved first time, look to resolve more queries first time around, and replace expensive 0845 numbers with cheaper local rate equivalents.

But the report’s authors say this is not enough: “HMRC has now set itself a target to answer 80 per cent of calls within five minutes. While achieving this target would be an improvement on current performance, it remains unambitious and woefully inadequate. It will still leave 16m people waiting more than five minutes.”

Last week HMRC announced plans to close all 281 centres that currently provide face-to-face tax advice.