HMRC reverses decision to close Self Assessment helpline every spring and summer

HMRC reverses decision to close Self Assessment helpline every spring and summer
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Wed 20th Mar 2024

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has halted its decision announced on Tuesday to close its Self Assessment helpine every year between April and September.

Following a trial closure last year, the tax authority said the helpline will not be available between 8 April and 30 September with callers directed to HMRC's online services. There will also be changes to the VAT and PAYE helplines.

The move was criticised by several organisations. Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Committee, called the decision "a great shame" and said it "should not be forced upon taxpayers until there is evidence that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC's incredibly complex website."

Chartered Institute of Taxation president Gary Ashford also criticised the change saying: "If last year's announcement of the summer closure of the Self Assessment helpline was a 'flashing indicator' that HMRC can't cope, today's announcements are a blinding light."

Today HMRC announced that it is halting the decision "in response to feedback", adding that it will engage with stakeholders "about how to ensure all taxpayers' needs, including small businesses, are met as HMRC shifts more people to online self-service in the longer term".

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said:

"Making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers' money by boosting productivity.

"Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

"However the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

"We've listened to the feedback and we're halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers' needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services."

A statement on behalf of the Treasury Committee said:

"The Treasury Committee is extremely pleased to see that common sense has prevailed.

"We welcome the decision to reverse yesterday's ill-advised announcement. While we do not oppose expansion of digital services for those who want to use them, we remain entirely unconvinced that HMRC is adequately prepared to impose such a significant change in how it serves taxpayers.

"Planned changes to the operation of HMRC's phonelines have been mismanaged from the beginning. Questions still remain over the extent to which the department are prioritising its own needs over those of law-abiding and vulnerable taxpayers.

"We will continue to engage with HMRC on this issue."

Enterprise Nation's reaction

Daniel Woolf, Enterprise Nation head of policy and government relations, said:

"Small businesses are already having to tackle a great deal of uncertainty that's having a detrimental impact on growth. This flip-flopping on changes to availability of tax support will not have helped at all.

"It's essential that the UK's tax authority has high levels of customer service to help small business owners handle their tax affairs. Entrepreneurs are happy to fulfil their regulatory obligations but most don't have tax experts in their business so they need a reliable all-year-round service that can answer their questions and deal with complex issues."

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance journalist and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's news reporter and Bristol Local Leader. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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