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Taxpayers waiting twice as long on phone to contact HMRC

Taxpayers are waiting twice as long on the phone to contact the HMRC helpline for tax inquiries, child benefits and tax credits, compared to the same month last year.

Official figures published by HM Revenue and Customs show that average waiting times for its contact centre telephone queues reached 10 minutes and 53 seconds in September - more than double the five minutes and 21 seconds recorded at the same point in 2013.

Some 34.5% of calls were cut off, compared with the 20.5% recorded last year, and the number answered in under two minutes dropped from half to a quarter.

Overall, the proportion of calls to HMRC actually handled fell from 79.5% a year ago to 65.5%.

A spokesperson for HMRC said: “We are working hard to improve our handling of customer calls and are moving up to 1,500 extra people on to the phones during January, as the self-assessment deadline approaches.

“HMRC receives around 70 million calls a year and we know that some of our customers can struggle to get through on our helplines at very busy times.

“This year we are introducing new technology to help us answer more calls quicker at busy times, and we are improving the digital services we offer so that more customers can find all they need online.

“Customers can get help with general self assessment queries by tweeting us @HMRCcustomers.”

However the suggestion that people should tweet their inquiries has drawn sharp criticism from politicians.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the idea was "laughable".

She added: "No customer based service should tolerate such a poor service and both ministers and senior management should simply sort this out."

Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood said it "beggars belief" that the government would encourage people to "publicly tweet about their tax affairs".

But Stephen Hardwick, director of communications for HMRC, defended the idea, saying Twitter would be a “supplement” for calling helplines.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are serious about the use of Twitter as a supplement to going online and using the telephone.

"What we don't want people to do is to give us any personal details.

"It's a very useful social media device to get guidance, to help point people to where they can get information online.

"It's a pilot, it is starting small, but the whole point of social media is you answer a question once and hundreds or thousands of people can see the answer, rather than answering the phone to all of those people asking the same question."

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Sam F   10/01/2015 at 09:46

Is it surprising No the Enquiry Centres were open last year and people used them The management assured that the call centres could cope with the extra calls the closure would cause

Carol   20/10/2015 at 17:37

waiting time is now 35 mins plus, and they still don't answer .....

C B   02/11/2015 at 17:13

The level of service people receive is on a spectrum. The worst service is from Government and other monopolies, then from industries that are highly regulated by government, then less regulated industries, with the best providers those in unregulated and therefore the most competitive industries.

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