Data on HMRC’s performance in 2022-23 contained in its annual report and accounts, the Charter annual report and research reports reveals the severity of the department’s problems. ICAEW continues to highlight the impact on taxpayers and agents and press for improvement.
HMRC failed to meet all its key customer service measures in 2022/23. Customer satisfaction dropped to 79%, from 82% in 2021/22. While customer correspondence cleared within 15 and 40 working days showed significant improvements compared to 2021/22, they still fell short of targets. Telephony performance has declined.
The annual report reveals the following:
|Customer satisfaction||79% (target 80%)||82%|
|Customer correspondence cleared within 15 working days||73% (target 80%)||46%|
|Customer correspondence cleared within 40 working days||89% (target 95%)||64%|
|Net easy score||+60 (target +70)||+66|
|Telephones: adviser attempts handled||71% (target 85%)||77%|
|Telephones: average speed of answer||16 minutes (no target)||12 minutes|
|Telephones: callers waiting for more than 10 minutes||63% (no target)||46%|
None of this will come as a surprise to ICAEW members. ICAEW’s Tax Faculty makes representations at regular meetings with HMRC. The problems were highlighted in a joint letter from professional bodies and in ICAEW’s budget representation to the Chancellor.
The mainstream media has covered the subject, quoting ICAEW’s Tax Faculty. Parliamentary committees have written to HMRC to express concerns. However, none of this activity has brought about possible solutions. The reductions to and freezing of tax allowances will add to the demands on HMRC at a time when its budget is coming under severe pressure.
Telephone answering performance continues to decline; the waiting time for January to March 2023 exceeded 20 minutes. Prior to the pandemic, the average waiting times were around five to six minutes and longer helpline opening hours included weekend service.
HMRC has made some progress clearing its backlog of correspondence. However, the detailed figures show that its performance when answering personal tax correspondence is worse than its overall performance. In a welcome development, HMRC has set up a taskforce to tackle correspondence which has been unanswered for more than 12 months. However, any ordinary customer focused organisation with a similar response rate would likely go out of business.
HMRC considers the solution lies in online self-service by taxpayers and agents. It wants a 30% reduction in the volume of contact through phone and post by 2025 (compared with 2021/2022). However, developments such as the single customer account may take several years before they make a significant difference to phone and post demand. Digital services for agents lag even further behind. HMRC is severely constrained by the complexity of moving taxpayer records from legacy systems.
Taxpayers and agents who would like to seek redress from HMRC should follow the advice in the Tax Faculty’s guide Making complaints to HMRC.
The annual Charter report explains the work that HMRC has been doing to embed the Charter standards across HMRC. The report from HMRC’s customer experience committee is more positive than the views expressed by the Adjudicator and the Charter stakeholder group.
The Adjudicator said: “Charter adherence we see across frontline service, through complaint teams into senior leadership, is patchy. In HMRC’s compliance work we perceive a clear senior leadership strategy where the Charter is given prominence…The evidence of similar activity in HMRC’s customer services work is not as clear…We cannot see that senior leaders at [senior civil servant] grades across HMRC have a consistent objective to place the Charter at the heart of their operational and strategic decision-making.”
Caroline Miskin represents ICAEW on the Charter stakeholder group. It reports that poor service levels were behind a particularly low score for “being responsive” in its survey.
This group also reported a perceived lack of accountability, summarised in one comment from an agent: “There are no consequences if HMRC gets things wrong. They hold taxpayers and agents to much higher standards than they hold themselves and there is little or no recourse for the extensive costs and time-wasting caused by HMRC incompetence and delays. They should be held to the same standards (deadlines) and pay compensation when they get things wrong – this might focus their minds and make them try to do things better. At the moment, there is no incentive for them to improve at all.”
While ICAEW sympathises with the problems HMRC faces in being asked to do more with less, the above comment sums up the profession’s concern that HMRC needs to be held properly accountable for poor performance, which includes redress.
Results from HMRC’s annual customer surveys found no statistically significant change from the previous year in the proportion of customers rating their overall experience in dealing with HMRC positively. The number of agents negatively rating their experience with HMRC did increase.
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