HMRC to close Self Assessment helpline every spring and summer

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

Posted: Tue 19th Mar 2024

HM Revenue & Customs has announced that its Self Assessment telephone helpline will not be available every year between April and September with users directed to online services.

The confirmation of a permanent annual change follows a trial closure of the helpline between June and September last year.

HMRC claimed that the pilot was "successful" with an evaluation showing "customers' filing rates and payments are in line with, or better than, previous tax years and not impacted by asking them to self-serve online".

Cuts are also being made to the tax authority's VAT and PAYE helpline. The full changes are as follows:

  • between 8 April and 30 September, the Self Assessment helpline will be closed and customers will be directed to HMRC's digital services.

  • between October and March the Self Assessment helpline will be open to deal with "priority queries", with others directed online.

  • the VAT helpline will be open for five days every month ahead of the deadline for filing VAT returns.

  • the PAYE helpline will no longer take calls about refunds. People with those queries will be encouraged to go online.

Angela MacDonald, HMRC's deputy chief executive, said:

"Online services have transformed our lives and often provide a better service for managing tax -- they're quicker, easier and always available.

"Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisers to focus support where it is most needed - helping those with complex tax queries and those who are vulnerable and need extra support.

"We must maximise every pound of taxpayers' money. Embracing online self-service allows us to help more customers and improve our customer service levels without spending additional public money."

HMRC customer service 'at all-time low'

The changes to the helplines follow the publication last month of a report by the Public Accounts Committee which said HMRC customer service levels are "at an all-time low".

It found that in 2022-23, 62.7% of callers waited more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser, up from 46.3% in 2021-22.

HMRC told the inquiry that it lacked the resources to meet rising demand for phone and post services at expected standards, so it directs callers to its "good quality" digital services. However, the committee said it "received a lot of evidence to the contrary from taxpayers and their agents".

Responding to the changes to the availability of the helplines, Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said:

"It is a great shame that HMRC have decided now is the time to essentially close down any avenues for people to contact them over the phone for huge parts of the year. I say once again, these are well-meaning people just trying to get their taxes right.

“The committee welcomes efforts to make the tax system more efficient but HMRC has not yet demonstrated that the department or the public are ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues. 

"This 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 (CIOT) president Gary Ashford added:

"We are deeply dismayed that, so soon after the criticisms levelled at them by the Public Accounts Committee, and in the light of an inconclusive evaluation, HMRC have decided to make these big, permanent cuts to the help they provide to taxpayers.

"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.

"HMRC's own evaluation of both the closure of the helpline in summer 2023, and the helpline restrictions during the 2024 Self Assessment peak, concluded that it is too early to say if there has been a long-term shift from phone contact to online self-service. Yet HMRC have decided to go ahead anyway.

"While HMRC refer to the increasing numbers of Self Assessment returns being filed, we are concerned that this doesn't give the full picture. The recently published Self-Assessment filing statistics suggest that the negative impacts of last year's measures may already be being felt. 90.48% of Self-Assessment returns that HMRC expected to receive were filed by the 31 January 2024 deadline, as compared to pre-pandemic rates in 2020 of 91.82% - a fall of around 180,000 taxpayers.

"And of the returns submitted, we are concerned there may be an increase in how many will include estimates or errors because of the inability to seek clarification from HMRC."

Relevant resources

Self Assessment deadline: A guide to filing your tax return

How to register as a sole trader

Book a free discovery call with an accountant

Self Assessment services from Enterprise Nation members

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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