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Biggest challenge for HMRC is now shift to digital, says its CEO

HM Revenue and Customs has now addressed its customer service issues but is anticipating a challenge in switching to online customer services, the organisation’s chief executive has told the Public Accounts Committee.

When Jon Thompson appeared before the committee, Caroline Flint asked him what his biggest concern was among the challenges facing HMRC.

“The department is facing further reductions in expenditure and staff support towards personal taxpayers, and the digital services have got to be developed,” she said.

Thompson said that he now considered the transfer to digital “the most significant strategic risk”.

However, he said that there was already some evidence of a shift in progress – for example, 40% of customers now renew tax credits online.

“The service needs to mature and people need to be able to trust it,” he said, “then you do see a channel shift”.

A recent National Audit Office report criticised HMRC for badly timed staffing cuts which led to its call waiting times tripling in the first seven months of 2015-16.

However, Thompson said the issue had undergone a “significant recovery”, with the most recent figures showing that 90% of calls were being handled and the average call length was six minutes.

HMRC has set a further target of reducing spending by 34% by 2020.

Ruth Owen, director general for customer service, told the committee that HMRC would avoid further impact on customer services because of these cuts by phasing the challenges and introducing early-warning systems and contingency measures.

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