The UK’s HMRC has announced that it is reversing its plans to close self-assessment helpline services for six months a year after public outcry.

On Tuesday, HMRC had announced that from this year its self-assessment would be shut from between April and September, with customers directed to self-serve through its online services.

However, by Wednesday morning, the revenue body said it was halting the plans in response to feedback.

HMCR said it will now consider how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met while it continued to shift more people to online self-service in the longer term.

HMRC’s average speed of answer to customer calls hit 25 minutes (25:02) in January 2024, up from 20 minutes (20:21) in January 2023 and 12.5 minutes (12:39) in January 2022.

The percentage of customers waiting more than 10 minutes for a response hit 71% in January 2024, up from 68.1% in January 2023 and 47.8% in January 2022.

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In their February 2024 report on HMRC performance in 2022/23, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts expressed their disappointment at the level of customer services provided by HMRC.

Commenting on this, UHY Hacker Young partner, Neela Chauhan, said: “HMRC’s customer service crisis threatens to hit a new low. HMRC is severely under-resourced and this is having a detrimental knock-on effect on all of its customers.

“The trend over the past few years is one of waiting longer and longer. Dealing with HMRC has become immensely frustrating. Unless this can be fixed it’s going to make it harder for small businesses to operate in the UK and it’s going to lead to more individuals paying the wrong amount of tax.

“Individuals and businesses need to resolve issues like tax returns quickly. Delays like the ones we’re seeing now increase the risk of penalties for customers. Delays in processing customer queries also hinders HMRC’s ability to resolve tax issues. This is in turn reduces the amount of tax HMRC collects – it is in their interest to fix this crisis promptly.”

BDO head of tax dispute resolution, Dawn Register, further said: “We welcome HMRC’s decision to halt its proposed helpline changes. We have always been clear that digital innovations offer real benefits to taxpayers but these must be introduced at the right pace.

“Currently, HMRC’s online systems aren’t foolproof and people often need to follow up with a call. Cutting off helplines at this stage was never going to be a good idea as it would have made it harder for taxpayers to be compliant.

“Most online service providers offer some form of helpline facility – particularly where the issues are complex. It’s hard to envisage a time when tax is so simple and HMRC’s online systems work so well that human helplines will no longer be needed.”