Self assessment tax helpline closed for three months
HMRC is planning to close the self assessment tax helpline for three months over the summer to focus call centre resources on dealing with other problem calls.
Sara White, Editor, Accountancy Daily
All calls to the helpline on 0300 200 3310 will be redirected to digital services over the period to give HMRC time to deal with other more urgent phone enquiries.
The helpline will be closed for three months from Monday 12 June until Monday 4 September. During this time HMRC said it will ‘trial directing SA queries from the helpline to the department’s digital services, including its online guidance, digital assistant and webchat’.
HMRC will increase the advisers available on webchat, the online service helpline and the extra support team helpline.
Demand for the self assessment helpline is 50% lower during the summer, according to HMRC. The self assessment helpline receives around 5m calls each year, with nearly 4m people staying on through the recorded messages to speak to an HMRC adviser according to the HMRC quarterly performance figures.
In the period June to August 2022, broadly the equivalent of this year’s period of closure, nearly 1.2m people called the helpline, with over 900,000 people staying on to try to speak to someone.
Tax advisers and accountants have complained for months about the quality of service offered by HMRC with long waits on phone lines and a reduction in the quality of HMRC services.
This is not the first time HMRC has limited access to helplines, but it is the first time it has completely shut down a service for a significant period.
HMRC said the move would free up 350 advisers to take urgent calls on other lines and answer taxpayer correspondence. If the call handlers focus on urgent calls, HMRC said these advisers would be able to answer around 6,600 calls each day, ensuring more taxpayers with pressing enquiries would be able to speak to an adviser.
Adam Harper, director of professional standards and policy at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), said: ‘This pilot raises significant concerns about the impact it will have on taxpayers, particularly those who are digitally excluded or who cannot currently access the service they require via digital platforms.
‘The need for such a pilot, in order to redirect staff elsewhere, highlights the much bigger challenge that HMRC faces in balancing competing priorities with a constrained budget. Ultimately, the government must address the root problem that more investment is needed.’
The helpline will re-open on 4 September this year so taxpayers can receive support in the five months running up to the self assessment deadline on 31 January 2024.
Chris Etherington, private client tax partner at RSM UK, said: ‘The closure will come as an unwelcome shock to many taxpayers and could be a short-sighted move.
‘HMRC already struggles to deal with the level of phone calls that come through in the winter ahead of the 31 January deadline, and this could make the problem worse. If taxpayers can’t get answers to their queries over the summer months, they may push these back until later in the year and pile more pressure onto the phone lines then.
‘It also leaves those taxpayers who are due to make tax payments on 31 July 2023 with no means of contacting HMRC on the phone to deal with any queries they might have.’
HMRC has been trialling various phone line closures recently and is committed to pushing people to use digital services rather than speaking to a call handler.
Angela MacDonald, deputy CEO at HMRC, said: ‘We continually review our services to see how they can best serve the public and we are taking steps to improve them.
‘A seasonal SA helpline will make more of our expert advisers available where they are most needed during the summer months.
‘Our online services, including the HMRC app, are quick and easy to use and have been significantly improved. I urge customers to explore these fully before deciding to wait to speak to us on the phone.’
In line with the digital first approach, HMRC said it would ‘continue to transform its online services, increasing their capabilities and ease of use so they become the default option for the vast majority of customers’.