Why are HMRC wait times so long?

Taxpayers are left frustrated with the declining level of HMRC service. Currently, response levels are at a five-year low, leaving MPs ‘disappointed’.

A 2023 Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report paints a bleak picture of declining service standards. Specifically, it was described as reaching an ‘all-time low’, with long waits on phone lines where they have not been cut. With a rising number of taxpayers with complex issues, HMRC pushing taxpayers to use their website and app isn’t the solution.

HMRCs Staffing Numbers

MPs also said that HMRC and Treasury have made a ‘conscious choice‘ to reduce the number of telephone support and advisers on the lines despite demand rising by 10%. In addition, taxpayers face increasingly complex tax scenarios they cannot resolve online or via their app.

MPs said this was the fifth consecutive year of decline. For example, 63% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser in 2022-23, up from less than half, at 46%, the previous year.

HMRC told the PAC’s inquiry that it did not have the resources to meet rising demand for its phone and post services at expected standards. Instead, it directs callers to use digital services, which it insists are good quality. The PAC received a lot of evidence to the contrary from taxpayers and their agents.

The report stated, ‘HMRC is too keen to point to the long road to digitisation as an excuse for poor customer services now. ‘HMRC must ensure sufficient accessibility in the system for people to raise concerns and have these dealt with promptly.

What is the impact of long HMRC wait times?

Over the last year, there has been a significant reduction in criminal prosecutions by HMRC, from 691 in 2019-20 to 240 in 2022-23. HMRC told MPs on the committee that it is ‘increasingly selective in using its criminal investigation powers and seeking prosecution (in part due to backlogs in the criminal justice system)’. The PAC is concerned that ‘if fewer criminals are prosecuted, this sends the wrong message’.

What changes would we like to see HMRC make?

PAC set six recommendations for HMRC to implement urgently to improve the declining service standards. These range from addressing fraud, tax evasion and cracking down on fraudsters.

We at the firm would love to see HMRC lean less on technology in the short term. ‘ Fin-tech’ companies like Sterling Bank, Monzo and Money Box have shown the potential of technology. However, due to having a business model built from the ground up to accommodate being an app only, it works. For HMRC, their app and website have a way to go regarding functionality, usability and accessibility. While the app is being brought up to speed, we think it best they not cut the phone cords yet. In time, we believe HMRC digital offering will be a valid replacement for ringing directly; however, based on the wait times, it is clear the firm is just not there yet.

How can we help?

Having access to your Tax Account can help you manage some aspects of your tax affairs more effectively. If you would like more advice on this, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our tax team.