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HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline Tax News

View profile for Elaine Pasini MCIM
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Helplines for self-assessment tax advice were going to be drastically cut but then yesterday afternoon the HMRC did a 180 degree turn around on that decision!

What’s going on with the HMRC?

HMRC was going to close its telephone helpline service between 8 April to 30 September, leaving those needing advice to use other ways of seeking guidance, mainly via digital and automation methods. 

However, Wednesday 20 March, saw the HMRC back-peddling and informing us that they changed their minds.

HMRC Chief Executive Jim Harra said:

 "We've listened to the feedback and we're halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers' needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services."

"The pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.”.

Gary Ashford, President of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), said (in a BBC report):

“While many people wanted to use HMRC's online services, the system was not yet functioning well enough.”

Tax returns can be stressful at the best of times, and the Public Accounts Committee’s report in February 2024 said customer service at the HMRC was at an all-time low.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Almost eight years have passed since our committee challenged HMRC over its telephone lines’ holding message being one of the most streamed pieces of music in the country. Our latest report into its performance sadly illustrates a continued tale of decline in its services.”

“Our report also poses serious questions as to whether HMRC is getting the balance right between its civil and criminal prosecutions. Our findings show a steep drop in the latter at the same time as we see HMRC going to great lengths to challenge people in court over their employment status. Our committee has heard the frustration felt by the many taxpayers and organisations who provided evidence to our inquiry loud and clear. HMRC would be well-advised to do the same.”

You can read the Public Accounts Committee’s report HERE, which offers some interesting data, including 2022-23 findings showed 62.7% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser, up from 46.3% in 2021-22.

The HMRC replied to report saying that it did not have the resources to meet rising demand for its phone and post services, which is why it was going to close its helplines and direct callers to use its digital services instead.

What help and guidance options does the HMRC offer online?

Preparation and planning are key when it comes to filing accounts and taxes. However, we all need guidance or help sometimes, and the HMRC currently have the following in place:

  1. “Ask HMRC”, which is online webchat. Easily found via this LINK, and once you open the “chat” it should connect to a “digital assistant”. It’s live 24/7 with the HMRC saying it offers information and guidance.
  2. If “Ask HMRC” webchat is having technical issues, or if you need further support because of health or personal issues, the HMRC’s “online services helpdesk” is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm (not bank holidays).
  3. Good old-fashioned post. Yes, the HMRC can receive letters (not email) which will be logged. The ILFM would recommend mailing an item (with clear references and reply to instructions) with a “proof of posting” note, and include in sentence asking the HMRC to acknowledge safe receipt. You may not get one of course! The postal address is: Self-Assessment, HM Revenue & Customs, BX9 1AS.
  4. HMRC uses X (formerly “Twitter”) and if you have an account can follow their page for updates, however, you will not be able to ask for bespoke help and please remember to never share any personal information.

When it comes to supply and demand in the HMRC it’s clear there are gaps in the budget. Mark Adderley, Senior Manager and Auditor at Crowe and ILFM Council Member said:

Mark Adderley, Auditor and Senior Manager at Crowe

“HMRC desperately need to deal with queries on a timely basis and that includes dealing with queries by phone. It is reasonable for people to want to phone HMRC and speak to someone about their query. We all know it feels like someone is dealing with the query if you have actually spoken to someone; whereas dealing remotely will lead to concerns around whether someone is actually dealing with it and will lead to more delays on the work that HMRC have on hand. The backlog experienced by some teams will just increase.”

“It is not acceptable that HMRC departments have backlogs of in excess of 6 months.”

“What is being done to change the status quo?”

In summary, it’s clear that with anything to do with tax and potential queries relating to it, whether you are the one doing the self-assessment for yourself, or as an agent, time is key. Plan ahead, know the deadline dates and do not bury your head in the sand.