HMRC close helpline for 6 months

HMRC close helpline

HMRC close helpline for 6 months: A Disruption in Taxpayer Support

Yesterday, 19 March, HMRC announce that they are going to close their Self Assessment telephone helpline for 6 months starting from 8 April. They intend to do this every year from now on. They will also be significantly cutting back on the times the VAT helplines will be open.

This closure of the helplines poses a significant challenge for both business owners and consumers who rely on direct contact with HMRC for their tax-related queries and concerns. In this blog post, we will delve into the implications of HMRC’s decision, as well as explore alternative avenues for obtaining support and assistance during this period.

Reasons for closing helplines

HMRC cannot handle number of calls

HMRC is currently facing challenges in managing the high number of incoming calls, resulting in inadequate customer service. As a response to this issue, HMRC has taken the decision to close their helpline temporarily. This decision has been made to prioritize resources and ensure a more efficient handling of customer queries and concerns in the long run.

HMRC claim taxpayers can “self help”

HMRC want taxpayers to self help when it comes to resolving their queries. In order to “provide more efficient support”, HMRC advises individuals to explore alternative methods such as accessing information on their official website or referring to instructional videos on platforms like YouTube. This approach, they claim, aims to empower taxpayers with the necessary tools to address their concerns independently, resulting in a more streamlined process for both business owners and consumers.

This will reduce the number of staff HMRC have to employ to handle taxpayer queries.

HMRC claim the taxpayer can usually resolve their own query

HMRC claim that taxpayers can typically resolve their issues by using self-help resources. By utilizing the available tools and guidance provided by HMRC, individuals and businesses can often find solutions to their queries without needing to seek additional assistance. This approach, they claim, empowers taxpayers to take control of their tax matters and enables them to efficiently address and resolve any problems that may arise.

Consequences of closing helpline

Lets be clear; this is emormous.

Its also irrational, driven by HMRC’s failures and desperation.

Lets just say you run a small business, a shop selling art supplies and providing a picture framing service. You are very successful, so successful in fact that you have queues of customers all day long. Customers are expressing frustration so you decide to close the shop for 6 months ever year.

Doesn’t work does it? But that is exactly what has happened at HMRC and how thay are responding.

The analogy the HMRC is not exact

  • Customers of the shop can go elsewhere whereas the victims of HMRC cannot
  • Customers of the shop go there by choice; HMRC victims have no option but to deal with HMRC

Part of HMRC’s justification is that the taxpayer could have resolved the query themself with the various online tools and technics in around 2/3 of calls. Without for the moment considering if this is true, obvious implication is that in 1/3 of cases they could not!

So by closing the helpline, millions of taxpayers are left with unresolvable queries and issues!!!! HMRC are taking a bad situation and making it worse.

I also doubt HMRC’s claim about the effectiveness of self help. Their website is a mess, its difficult to find accurate, reliable information, its difficult-to-impossible to separate out of date from current information, client specific records such as you would see though your Government Gateway account is badly presented verging on unintelligible……

The chatbot HMRC claim is so helpful can do nothing more than point the user to generic guidance which often bears little relationship to the taxpayer’s issue.

I know my knowledge, skills and issues as a practicing accountant are different from a typical taxpayer. I call HMRC frequently. The overwhelming majority of my calls, probably more than 99%, could NOT be resolved by generic guidelines, self help etc. That’s why I call; as an “expert” I know that HMRC human intervention is needed.

In most cases, the issue has arisen as a result of system or process issues by HMRC. Their automations have failed and cannot be fixed without human actions.

Let me list just a few examples of the failures by HMRC

  • A client of mine is owed a rebate of £6k. Its been outstanding since August 2022, 19 months. I have claimed on line, called, called again and again, got the client to call. HMRC have clearly stated there is no reason for not having paid the rebate. But still they have not made the rebate. I am, as I write, on hold with HMRC waiting to make yet another chaser call. This is not a wealthy client; he desperately needs the rebate to live off.
  • I regularly have to call HMRC to ask them to “force through” corporation tax returns. There is an error on their systems (they told me this) that causes CT returns to “get stuck”; they have no method of detecting or correcting this themself.
  • A client paid their corporation tax on time and had written proof direct from HMRC to this effect. HMRC “lost” the payment and chased the client for the “overdue” debt. Despite me, twice, calling HMRC and HMRC acknowledging they did in fact have the payment, HMRC handed the debt over to a collection agency.
  • A taxpayer made a mistake when submitting his own tax return and engaged me to resolve this. 2 months after submitting the correction on-line, HMRC have failed to process the correction. I called as was told, basically, its his tough luck….

I could go on but I think you get the point; I call to address HMRC’s own failures, not because I don’t want to self help.

How we can help

I must start by saying that in announcing that HMRC close their helpline at such short notice, someone surely has stepped out of line. The decision has not been thought through, smacks of desperation and clearly leaves a huge number of taxpayers in the lurch.

So maybe the decision will be reversed or at least toned down…. We can but hope.

If you are still seeking professional support, please do contact us. We offer competitively priced services to businesses and small businesses around Milton Keynes and increasingly across the UK as a whole.

Update 20 March – HMRC reverses decision to close helpline!!

Well, I did not see this coming; HMRC have already reversed their decision. I thought there might eventually be some watering down of the change but not such an immediate capitulation. The media are reporting that Jeremy Hunt stepped in to force the issue.

The fact that HMRC can so dogmatically announce such a big change only to be immediately overruled from the very top begs huge questions about the competence of the senior management at HMRC.

Actually, it doesn’t; its nothing new. Its no secret that the whole of HMRC is a complete mess. I wish I could say this is a turning point but quite frankly I think its going to get worse and worse.