Back in June (with only four days’ notice) a trial to redirect Self Assessment (SA) queries from HMRC’s phone helpline to its digital services began.
This trial is set to run for three months – up to the 4th of September 2023.
This means that taxpayers are relying on HMRC’s online guidance, digital assistant and web chat over the summer months, rather than the helpline for support.
Why is this happening?
HMRC is behind in answering its post and finalising problems including investigations, some of which have been waiting a year to be settled.
Their annual performance report for 2022/23 reveals that HMRC failed to meet all of its key customer service measures for the year, with phone answering performance continuing to decline. (Although correspondence cleared within 15 to 40 working days showed improvement, it still fell short of targets.)
HMRC says that the closure of the Self Assessment phone lines over the summer period will free up 350 advisers, enabling them to take urgent calls on the lines of other tax areas and answer outstanding correspondence.
HMRC also states that the majority of its ‘customers’ use online services and that an estimated that around two-thirds of all SA calls can be resolved by customers looking online. With the phone helpline closed, customers will be directed to webchat, the Online Service Helpline and the Extra Support Team Helpline where the number of advisers available will be increased.
What alternative assistance is there?
HMRC advises that the answers to the majority of questions can be found online. In addition to the online guidance, there is also HMRC’s digital assistant. If the digital assistant cannot help, then the customer will be directed to an HMRC webchat adviser – if one is available.
The new HMRC app inter alia can also be used to check a customer’s UTR number, tax code and NIC number, income from work in the previous five years, claim a tax refund, obtain an estimate of the tax due and, importantly, track the progress of forms and letters sent to HMRC.
If you are looking for a more personal method of communication, HMRC’s online forums are a good place to start. The forums allow questions to be answered on a wide range of topics under 14 separate headings.
Including topics such as; starting a business, selling abroad, tax credits, VAT, self-employment and Self Assessment.
In addition to responses from other forum members, HMRC’s technical staff may also post replies. The registration process is straightforward; the only requirement being for a valid email address and username.
Going forward Online
Under HMRC’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ initiative, HMRC plans to move to a fully digital tax system.
Directing taxpayers away from the phone lines to the website is a step towards making their tax administration ‘more effective, efficient, and easier for taxpayers to fulfil their obligations whilst reducing HMRC’s overheads for managing the tax system’- (HMRC policy paper ‘Overview of Making Tax Digital’).
HMRC wants a 30% reduction in contact by phone and post by 2025 (compared with 2021/2022) and this trial of ‘seasonal closure’ of phone lines will help HMRC direct the redeployment of staff to areas most in need at particular times of the tax year.
We are on hand to help
If you are struggling with a query that you can’t find the answer to online our friendly team will be happy to help. And our phones are open Monday to Friday 9am until 5pm for the whole of summer (and every week of the year).
You can contact us on 01704 211 434 or email@example.com