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HMRC reinforces its commitment to channelling callers to online services

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HMRC reinforces its commitment to channelling callers to online services

Read Time:

5 mins

Topic:

HMRC Policy

Date:

8 December 2023

HMRC has recently announced changes in handling calls in the lead-up to the self-assessment filing deadline, steering individuals towards online services. Commencing from December 11th, 2023, until January 31st, 2024, queries relating to Self-Assessment (SA) that can be swiftly resolved online will be redirected to HMRC's digital platforms.


However, the specifics of this announcement lack depth and clear instruction. HMRC mentioned using recorded messages along with SMS texts, hinting at an expansion of prior trials that redirected calls to SMS.


HMRC plans to categorise calls based on the nature of the query. Queries related to SA filing, payments, and repayments will receive messages guiding them to online services. Nevertheless, callers with these types of queries can still opt to speak to an advisor after hearing these messages (a "soft" redirect).


Other SA-related calls, such as updating personal details or checking a unique taxpayer reference (UTR) number, will be firmly redirected to online services, terminating the call (a "hard" redirect). However, queries with ambiguous natures will be directed to an advisor.


HMRC's online services include a digital assistant called Webchat. For those unable to utilise digital services, HMRC suggests reaching out to their online services helpdesk at 0300 200 3600, which can direct calls to an SA advisor or HMRC's extra support team.


Certain uncertainties remain, such as the handling of calls from landlines without the capability to receive SMS messages, the level of assistance HMRC's contact centre staff will provide, and the resolution of queries without online services or those not functioning optimally.

HMRC also noted that the agent-dedicated line would mimic the Self-Assessment setup, directing agents to digital services for suitable queries. During this period, the agent-dedicated line will not handle any PAYE-related calls. Agents with PAYE queries can resort to HMRC's digital assistant, Webchat, or request a callback for complex queries.


The Chancellor assured the Treasury Select Committee of discussions with HMRC's head regarding customer service targets, indicating a trajectory to meet those goals despite the current status. HMRC had previously stated resource constraints in maintaining service standards through traditional channels of phone and post. They believe these seemingly conflicting statements can be reconciled by achieving a 30% shift of demand from phone and post to online services.


Caroline Miskin from ICAEW Tax Faculty views this move as another drastic measure by HMRC to shift from traditional channels to online services. The lack of detailed information in the announcement might leave taxpayers and agents uncertain about the handling of their queries, potentially being redirected online without resolution.


Miskin warns that if HMRC fails in its push toward online services, service levels might further decline. With the recent announcement of a £1bn budget cut for HMRC in 2024/25, many perceive this move as a partial closure of the self-assessment helpline during a critical period.


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