HMRC’s decision to scrap a key waiting time target on one of its phone lines is a new low for the Department and suggests it is failing to manage the tax system effectively and efficiently, chartered accountancy body ICAEW has said.
ICAEW said HMRC should urgently publish a plan setting out improvements to its services and be held accountable for making changes, after HMRC announced that from Monday 2 October it will no longer operate a 10-minute service level on its Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) and will re-route enquiries on PAYE.
Although ICAEW members found waiting times were usually in excess of 10 minutes on the ADL – generally 30 minutes or more – the move demonstrated that a thorough review into HMRC’s resources and capabilities was needed to determine whether it can operate effectively and to develop improved digital services for the future, ICAEW said.
The latest announcement provides further evidence of a continued decline in HMRC’s performance, and comes after years of performance falling below expected standards, with little sign of any improvement likely in the near future, ICAEW added.
Professional bodies were presented with some possible alternatives to the removal of the target, but these would have effectively meant removing priority from the ADL.
ICAEW said it was disappointing that despite engaging with professional bodies in advance of the announcement, suggestions on communications were not taken up by HMRC.
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Commenting on this, ICAEW chief executive, Michael Izza, said: “Removing the 10-minute service level on the Agent Dedicated Line represents a new low in HMRC’s declining performance. Agents play a key role in the tax system and if they can’t work effectively there is a significant knock-on effect on the UK economy.
“It seems clear that HMRC does not have the tools to manage the tax system effectively and efficiently, so to restore confidence we want to see a thorough review with a plan to improve services and develop digital capabilities for the future.”
ICAEW also pointed to issues with digital services, and said agents often had to resort to using the phone or write to HMRC as many services lacked functionality only because they are unable to resolve their clients’ issues digitally. HMRC’s repeated insistence that taxpayers and agents use online services highlights that it doesn’t understand the problems they face in using them and simply adds to the frustrations that agents experience.
ICAEW has previously joined with a number of other accountancy bodies to write to the Chancellor and call for more resources for HMRC.