HMRC Keeps Landlords Hanging on the Phone

The tax man seems to throw a tantrum if landlords don’t pay their taxes on time - but service standards data reveals they can’t bother to answer the phone to answer inquiries.

Despite HM Revenue & Customs claims that tax is simple, many taxpayers find filing returns and paying their liabilities complicated. A telephone chat is needed from time to time to sort the details.

The HMRC performance is so bad that four accountants and tax adviser professional bodies have set up a lobby group to express the concerns of their members about service standards.

Myrtle Lloyd, the HMRC head of customer services, wrote to the group claiming ‘solid progress’ had been made in lowering the time taxpayers and their agents spent on hold.

“We aim to answer all calls to the agent dedicated line (ADL) within 10 minutes and our data shows that we rarely exceed this,” said the letter.

But the data is damning.

17,000 call centre complaints

The average waiting time before answering a call is 10 minutes 49 seconds - but 41.5 per cent of callers wait for more than that to speak to an adviser, according to HMRC’s performance data for the three months to December 31.

Call waiting times are improving but generated nearly 17,000 complaints in the quarter.

HMRC publishes a performance metrics list telling taxpayers when they should expect to wait for responses.

New landlords registering for self-assessment online should expect to wait for 15 days before receiving any reply.

Waits for self-assessment amendments are building. HMRC should amend tax returns in 15 days but is currently working on those received on April 28 - 78 days in arrears. Staff are also working with the same delay for penalty appeals sent in the post but aim to return to regular service of a 15-day response time by the end of September.

169-day wait for tax refunds

Online penalty appeals have a shorter delay - staff are 30 days behind and working on requests received on June 15.

Other services experiencing delays include requesting a self-assessment tax refund online has a 44-day delay, and staff are currently handling filings from June 1.

Among the most prolonged delays taxpayers can expect is finalising a Form R40 claim for a tax refund deducted from savings and investments. Standard service is a 15-day turnaround, but the response delay is 169 days, with staff processing forms received on January 26.

The performance data revealed that 15 per cent of mail waited more than 40 days for a reply in 2021. However, the figures for 2022 are missing from the HMRC performance report.

HMRC blames a backlog of 2 million items of correspondence on diverting staff from call handling to other tasks during the COVID lockdowns by the end of the year.

Delays are a serious concern.

During the COVID pandemic, HMRC imposed several measures to manage calls and correspondence.

Staff were redeployed between offices and worked overtime while they paused web chat services to free up call handlers.

Bradley Post, CEO of accounting firm RIFT Tax Services, said: “It’s fair to say that the service levels being provided have become a serious cause of concern. We can only trust that HMRC is doing the best they can in a difficult situation, and hopefully, it won’t be too long before they manage to return to the time frames specified in their service-level agreement.”

The latest performance report, published for the year to the end of April, shows HMRC handled:

  • 1,356,645 web chats
  • 31,820,239 phone calls
  • 17,169,678 pieces of correspondence, of which 2,212,618 were online forms and 15,041,060 letters

Where can you view HMRC customer service data?

HMRC publishes a spreadsheet summary of the data at the end of each quarter.

Why is HMRC customer data necessary?

The speed HMRC advisers answer the phone impacts taxpayers' time hanging on to speak to them. In addition, long delays in processing refund claims are costing taxpayers money.

Does a watchdog review the data?

Yes. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee analyses the HMRC performance data.

What are the customer service targets?

HMRC aims to answer the phone within ten minutes and to deal with correspondence, including refunds, within 15 days.

How do I complain about HMRC customer service problems?

HMRC has a dedicated page for taxpayers with complaints about customer service.

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