HMRC has announced that in the run up to the self assessment filing deadline, it will be redirecting callers to online services. The agent dedicated (ADL) line is also affected and will not handle PAYE queries.

HMRC has announced that from 11 December 2023 to 31 January 2024, self assessment (SA) “queries that can be quickly and easily resolved online will be directed to HMRC’s online services”. 

The announcement is very short on detail. It says, “recorded messages supported by SMS texts will be used”. This suggests that what is proposed is an expansion of previous trials of redirecting calls to SMS. 

HMRC’s call-handling system will use the caller’s description of the nature of the query to route calls. HMRC has indicated that callers who phone about SA filing, payments and repayments will hear messages directing the caller to online services (a “soft” deflect). However, callers who phone for these types of queries will also be able to choose to hold on to speak to an adviser. 

Other SA-related calls will be deflected to online services and the call will be terminated (“hard deflect”). Examples of calls that will be hard deflected include updating personal information, chasing the progress of a SA registration, ending SA registration, and checking a unique taxpayer reference (UTR) number. 

However, some calls where the nature of the query is ambiguous will instead be routed to an adviser.   

The types of online services available include HMRC’s digital assistant. Webchat can be accessed via the digital assistant. Taxpayers who are unable to use digital services are advised to call HMRC’s online services helpdesk on 0300 200 3600. The helpdesk can route calls directly to a SA adviser or HMRC’s extra support team. 

ICAEW’s Tax Faculty remains unclear on the following points: 

  • How calls from landlines will be handled given that an SMS message cannot be sent.
  • The extent to which HMRC’s contact centre staff will decline to assist some of those that do get through and instead redirect them to online services. 
  • How agents and taxpayers will resolve queries where there is no online service, or it is not working well. For example, SA registrations where HMRC has not processed and issued the UTR, ending SA registrations and requesting withdrawal of a tax return (agents cannot do this online for non-self-employed clients), or other progress chasing where a reply should have been received.  

HMRC also says: “Services on the agent dedicated line will replicate the self assessment offer, with agents also being directed to our digital services for suitable queries.”  

During this period the ADL will also not be dealing with any PAYE-related calls. The options for agents with PAYE queries are HMRC’s digital assistant and webchat. However, agents will be able to request a call back for “complex” PAYE queries. 

The Chancellor recently reassured the Treasury Select Committee that he “had discussions with the head of HMRC about their failure to meet customer service targets, and … they are actually on track to meet those targets, even if they are not meeting them now”. HMRC had previously stated that it is not resourced to deliver customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post. HMRC has said that these apparently contradictory statements can be reconciled. If HMRC manages to achieve its ambition of moving 30% of phone and post demand across to online services then it will be in a position to meet the targets. 

Caroline Miskin, Senior Technical Manager, ICAEW Tax Faculty says: “This is another extreme measure from HMRC to achieve a shift from telephone and post to online services. We are likely to see further moves in the future. Unfortunately, the announcement is lacking in the necessary detail. Taxpayers and agents calling HMRC will be left guessing whether their query will be dealt with, or if they will be directed online and sent a text message. Callers may even get through to an adviser who declines to deal with their query and directs them to online services.   

“If HMRC does not achieve the shift to online services that it is seeking, we can expect a further deterioration in service levels. The Autumn Statement confirmed that HMRC’s budget will be cut by £1bn for 2024/25. Many will see today’s news as a partial closure of the self assessment helpline at the time it is most needed.”    

 

Further information 

ICAEW’s Tax Faculty is recognised internationally as a leading authority and source of expertise on taxation. The faculty is the voice of tax for ICAEW, responsible for all submissions to the tax authorities. Join the Faculty for expert guidance and support enabling you to provide the best advice on tax to your clients or business.



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