As the self-assessment tax return deadline looms closer, a survey conducted by the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) revealed that half of respondents did not believe there had been any change in the quality of services provided by HMRC, while 34 per cent felt services had deteriorated.
Out of the 300 members surveyed, 47 per cent reported that telephone queries took longer than expected and 61 per cent held concerns about the ability of HMRC’s telephone staff to deal with complex queries.
Only a small number (16 per cent) felt that HMRC’s communication services had improved.
The dedicated line for personal tax agents was said to be more efficient than the overall telephone service, but feedback suggested that an increase in costs was felt across those surveyed.
HMRC’s postal service fared better in the results than the telephone service, with respondents generally agreeing that complex queries were more likely to be answered properly, despite it being a slower option.
A HMRC spokesman said: “We accept the level of customer service we provide isn’t always as good as we would like it to be, but we are currently answering more than 90 per cent of calls first time, we have 1,500 extra people taking calls during this busy time and we are processing thousands of tax returns every hour.
“We will always be under intense pressure when millions leave their tax returns to the last few weeks of the ten months they have to do them, but we have an excellent record of managing the late rush and have steadily increased online and on time returns year after year.
“We have structured our workforce and processes to meet our core priorities of maximising the collection of revenues while reducing costs, and to provide a fair and improving level of service, which we have been doing. There is room for improvement and our digital investment will deliver significantly better services to customers in future.”
Given the concerns highlighted by the survey, the ICAEW made six recommendations to HMRC to improve its service.
These suggestions included ensuring that enough staff are available to deal with complex queries; improving proactive contact and response waiting times; and ensuring that the changeover to a digitally-focused service does not have a negative impact on other forms of communication.