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  • Writer's pictureMax Austin

HMRC takes three years to answer letter

An accountancy firm had to wait over three years to receive a response from HMRC about an issue facing a client's accounts

Max Austin, Reporter, Accountancy Daily 2022-23 


Accountants at JF Hornby & Co have labelled HMRC as ‘dead in the water’ after receiving a response to an enquiry made in 2020 more than three years later.


JF Hornby & Co had asked for a simple administrative change to be made to one of their client’s accounts on 13 January 2020.


But this request was not acknowledged by HMRC until 20 June 2023, almost three-and-a-half years later, saying they could not complete the request.


This is yet another example of poor customer service levels, said Tom Southward, a partner at JF Hornby & Co: ‘The troubles at HMRC are well documented and we are used to dealing with incompetence, unanswered calls and long lead times for an answer to even the most basic of questions.


‘But three-and-a-half years really does take the biscuit; we could hardly believe it when our client received the letter. HMRC is on its knees. If it were a building it would be dilapidated with a family of pigeons living inside.


‘Something needs to happen because the services provided by this government department are vital for businesses trying to navigate a tricky economy.’


Earlier this year, HMRC was grilled by the Treasury Committee amid a row about the ‘seasonal’ closure of the individual self assessment helpline, lasting from 12 June until 4 September 2023.


The closure, which has seen around 350 staff transferred to other helplines, was described by the tax authority as being the most ‘efficient cost to the taxpayer’ despite many being kept on hold for hours before being cut off without speaking to staff.


HMRC said the decision had been made to ‘improve overall customer service levels’ and that the majority of queries could be made through online services, backed up by a webchat adviser. It also claimed that this would lead to a reduction in waiting times on phone lines


But, the average wait time for its self-assessment helpline was 28 minutes in December and 27 minutes in January, compared with just 12 minutes in the previous year. HMRC improved the average waiting time to 21 minutes in May.


Southward added: ‘The system is fundamentally broken. HMRC is on its last legs and my advice would be do not resuscitate. We need a modern, fit-for-purpose service that is equipped to cater to the needs of the public and professional services dealing with enquiries on their behalf.


‘It’s difficult to see how the present situation can be turned around. Simply telling people to go online instead of using the helpline isn’t the way forward.


‘We need intervention and a plan from the very top of government to ensure these fundamental services are brought back on track.’


HMRC has been approached for comment.

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