Posted: Fri 9th Jun 2023
The HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Self Assessment (SA) tax helpline will close from 12 June until 4 September 2023, with users directed to digital tools.
The government department said the move will free up 350 advisers to deal with urgent queries during a time when the helpline receive "far fewer calls".
According to HMRC, calls are around 50% higher between January and April compared with June to August.
During the telephone line's closure, HMRC said available advisers will be increased on the Self Assessment webchat, the online service helpline and the extra support team helpline.
Angela MacDonald, deputy CEO and second permanent secretary 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.
Update on 13 June 2023
Harriett Baldwin MP, chair of the Treasury Committee, has written to Angela MacDonald, HMRC's deputy chief executive, about the decision to close the Self Assessment helpline.
The letter asks:
what impact the closure will have on taxpayers
whether an analysis and a consultation has taken place
if the helpline will be reopened should the detriment to taxpayers be greater than expected
if the closure of the helpline is related to HMRC’s homeworking policy or staffing issues
for information on the procedures in place to assist vulnerable taxpayers and those unable to use digital services
Harriett Baldwin MP said:
"Given the potentially significant impact closing the Self Assessment helpline may have on taxpayers, we're looking for clarification that HMRC has fully considered the costs and benefits of this decision.
"There are also concerns around the short notice with which this was announced. HMRC must be open, upfront and transparent when making decisions which could impact so many individuals."
Concerns over HMRC customer service levels
The move was criticised by some tax organisations, including the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) which said that almost 1.2 million people called the helpline between June and August 2022, with over 900,000 people staying on to try to speak to someone.
Gary Ashford, CIOT president, said:
"This looks like a cry for help in a desperate situation. This is another clear indicator that HMRC can't cope with everything it is being tasked to do, and simply cannot meet the demands of a growing and ever more complex tax system.
"The announcement effectively says to around a million of HMRC's customers that they are on their own. Not only is this appalling customer service, but the timing is remarkable, having just encouraged taxpayers to submit their Self Assessment return early.
"The announcement is almost silent on what people should do where they would otherwise have had to phone HMRC, such as to chase an overdue repayment, or to remove themselves from self assessment.
"While HMRC are increasing the advisers available on webchat and some other helplines, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers will simply be left out in the cold, not knowing what to do or who to speak to.”
The CIOT was one of 10 professional bodies which wrote to chancellor Jeremy Hunt ahead of his Budget speech this March reporting concerns about HMRC’s customer service.
In an open letter, the groups highlighted figures from the Public Accounts Committee showing that HMRC customer service staff numbers have been cut by 24% in the past five years and £42 billion in taxes have not been collected.
The letter said:
“We increasingly hear from our members about the severe delays, business disruption and frustration that has become a regular occurrence when dealing with HMRC.
“Businesses claiming repayments and reliefs are frequently waiting upwards of six months, straining cash flow. Time spent waiting on phone lines and sending chasing letters creates additional compliance costs that our members typically bear rather than pass on to their frustrated clients, but it is also an added cost for HMRC and ultimately, taxpayers.”