After a three-month summer break, HMRC's Self-Assessment Helpline Closure, as previously reported in our article, has now been lifted, with services resuming from 4 September.
During the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline Closure period, all calls to the helpline on 0300 200 3310 were redirected to digital services. This strategic move allowed HMRC to allocate time to address more pressing phone enquiries and to reallocate 350 staff to other departments, including handling the postal backlog.
Impact on Callers: Estimated 1.2 Million Affected by the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline Closure
The temporary closure of the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline impacted an estimated 1.2 million callers and serves as an indicator of HMRC's direction toward encouraging taxpayers to use online digital services. This shift is aimed at reducing the pressure on helplines and call centre staff.
The HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline typically receives approximately 5 million calls each year, with nearly 4 million individuals patiently waiting through recorded messages to speak to an HMRC adviser, according to the HMRC quarterly performance figures.
While this closure of the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline isn't the first instance of HMRC limiting access to helplines, it is the first time they have completely shut down the service for a significant period.
Adam Harper, director of professional standards and policy at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), commented on the closure of the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline, saying, "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."
Treasury Committee Critique and HMRC Response to the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline Closure
The closure of the HMRC Self-Assessment Helpline had drawn criticism from the Treasury Committee during a hearing with financial secretary to the Treasury, Victoria Atkins, in June. Chair Harriet Baldwin MP expressed concerns about HMRC service levels, describing them as a "complete mess."
Atkins defended HMRC, stating, "Our customer service levels across HMRC have not been as they should be, so I have been working with officials to find ways to surge our customer service teams to handle peaks in demand that we see across the helpline."
She also hinted that similar closures might occur in the future. "We will be watching this very, very carefully. If it is helping with some of the customer service problems we have, then we will look to see if we can surge people at other times of the year when there are peaks and troughs into the higher activity areas. It is about using our people as effectively as possible when customers are trying to contact HMRC," said Atkins.
As a reminder, the Self-Assessment Tax Return deadline is 31 January 2024 for online returns and 31 October 2023 for paper returns.
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