One day after announcing restrictions to its VAT, self assessment and PAYE helplines, HMRC has announced a change in approach.

HMRC announced on 20 March that the changes to the self assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines publicised the previous day will all be halted while it engages with stakeholders. This means that the self assessment helpline will remain open between April and September.

Responding to the latest announcement, Caroline Miskin, Senior Technical manager ICAEW Tax Faculty said: “This surprising U-turn is good news for taxpayers, who need HMRC customer service to be responsive to their queries.

“If taxpayers can’t speak to a human when they need to, there is a real risk that they give up on trying to do the right thing and that errors and non-compliance increase.

“We hope HMRC will learn lessons and listen to professional bodies and other stakeholders before making major changes in the future.”

The original announcement

HMRC announced on 19 March that, from 8 April 2024, its VAT general enquiries telephone helpline will only be available for the five business days leading up to and including the filing deadline each month. Anyone calling the helpline outside this period would be directed to HMRC’s online services, including digital assistant and webchat.  

HMRC also announced that it was making permanent the changes to the self assessment (SA) helpline trialled last year.  

There are currently no plans to change the services on the agent dedicated line (ADL). However, HMRC is keeping the service under continuous review. HMRC has confirmed that advisers on the ADL will deal with both the PAYE and SA aspects of a query. However, some advisers are not trained on both and so will require the agent to call back on the SA or PAYE line as appropriate.  

Responding to the original announcement, Miskin said: “The changes to the VAT helpline are likely to cause the most problems for ICAEW members, with calls being bunched into five working days. HMRC has made clear that all these changes are permanent. It has published an evaluation of the SA helpline changes trial and has said that it will listen to feedback and review processes, but no further formal evaluation is planned.

“The full impact of the SA helpline closure cannot be assessed at this stage as the effect on the accuracy of returns won’t be known for some time. Although more SA returns were filed by the deadline, more taxpayers missed the deadline, and we know very little about this group. Some online services, such as registering and deregistering for SA require significant improvement.”   

Further reading 

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