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HMRC under fire for “unacceptably low” service levels

Professional accounting body slams tax authority’s poor customer service standards 

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has urged the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to resolve HMRC’s poor customer service levels by publishing an open letter it wrote to him in the spring.

As reported by The Telegraph, ACCA wrote an open letter demanding a solution to HMRC’s “unacceptably low level” of service. The letter, dated 6 March this year, was made publicly available ahead of last week’s Autumn Statement, in an attempt to prompt action by the Chancellor.

Its publication also followed the release of ACCA’s own research among 200 of its members which found that HMRC’s service levels had a negative impact on half (52%) of respondents, with just 7% believing that HMRC’s services required no improvements.

Citing “the challenge[s] faced by members using HMRC service”, ACCA called for “drastic improvements to communication and waiting times”.

Similarly, its letter to the Chancellor blamed “a lack of investment” for the fall in service and customer satisfaction. Over time, this “damaged relationships between HMRC, compliant taxpayers and the agents supporting them, with service standards at HMRC falling to an unacceptably low standard”.

The Autumn Statement presented an opportunity for the Chancellor to solve these problems. And while there were some positive announcements on the day – including a solution to the double-taxation of IR35 and significant National Insurance reforms for sole traders – there were no commitments to improving HMRC’s service levels.


‘Emergency taskforce’ needed to solve delays

In its letter, ACCA suggested that “improving customer service and effectiveness” at HMRC needed to be a focus for the Chancellor in March’s Spring Budget.

However, no action was taken at the time. Another professional accountancy body, the Institute of Chartered Accounts in England and Wales (ICAEW), has previously called for the creation of an emergency task force to combat the “unacceptable backlog” of customer queries.

The backlog has partly been blamed on HMRC’s flexible working policy, which has resulted in low levels of office occupancy.

The latest figures show that, in November 2023, HMRC’s headquarters office occupancy was between 55 and 58%. It has also previously been reported that the tax office had “the lowest headquarter staff occupancy rates of any Whitehall department apart from the Foreign Office”.

HMRC has faced criticism for a number of high-profile problems over the last year, including IT issues which blocked customer calls, and the temporary closure of its customer service helplines over the summer. 

These issues have repeatedly impacted the UK’s self-employed workers, worsening their struggles with a complex tax landscape.


HMRC concerns “cannot be overstated”

Quoted in The Telegraph, Glenn Collins – Head of Technical and Strategic Engagement at ACCA – said that while the Chancellor would be predominately focused on “taxes, inflation and interest rates”, it was still “important to focus on getting the right framework for growth”.

That means “restoring trust in corporate governance” and “fixing HMRC”, Collins said. “HMRC service concerns, in particular, cannot be overstated. An effective, efficient tax system, which delivers for SMEs, must be at the heart of a successful economy,” he said.

“Announcing improvements to HMRC would be a valuable step to restore trust and kick-start business confidence”, Collins added.

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