News : HMRC to Cut Back Helpline Support
4 November 2010 - HMRC is to reduce its telephone helpline service in a bid to meet its long-term strategy of promoting online services. Photograph: Michael Kemp/Alamy
HM Revenue & Customs is axing its telephone helpline on Sundays from the end of November to "realign" its service with demand.
HMRC contact centres, which field calls from the public on tax matters, will close on Sundays from 29 November. A spokesman for the Revenue said the staff shifts freed up from the Sunday will be moved to other days of the week, when demand is higher.
He added: "After consulting widely, we have redeployed our Sunday contact centre staff to the busiest periods during the week, driving down waiting times and providing a more effective service when our customers need it most.
But Roy Maugham, a tax partner with the accountants UHY Hacker Young, believes the move is a result of the 15% reductions in HMRC resource spending and 33% cut in administration spending announced in the government's comprehensive spending review. Maugham also points out that it costs less to employ staff on weekdays than on Sundays.
He said: "Certainly for professionals it is very difficult to get through on the helpline during the week, so this will hopefully help them. But the weekend service is predominantly for members of the public trying to sort out their own tax affairs. Goodness knows how they will manage."
The helplines for self assessment, child benefit, tax credit and child tax credit are currently open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. In April HMRC admitted that its call centres and helplines were failing to cope with demand from the public, with callers frequently cut off or left hanging in lengthy queues.
But at the same time it was consulting on cutting back the number of hours operated by its helpline by closing altogether on Sundays, reducing Saturday and bank holiday opening hours to close at 4pm and cutting midweek opening hours on its smaller lines "to reflect their individual customer demand profiles".
Instead, it said it would extend opening hours, as needed, to meet temporary peaks in demand, such as the tax credits renewals peak and deadlines for self-assessment returns, and would redeploy staff into periods when there are high levels of customer demand.
A spokesman for HMRC said helpline hours were extended in January 2009, and 2008, in the run up to the 31 January deadline for the filing of self-assessment forms, and the same is likely to happen in January 2011, including offering a helpline on Sundays. He added that 82% of people who currently call on Sundays have said they would be happy and able to call on another day instead.
The Low Income Tax Reform Group attacked the changes, saying HMRC should consider promoting the Sunday service and the ease of access to online services to spread the load more evenly. It said: "HMRC's long-term strategy is to grow online services. But to make this transition, many people will need tailored help at a time of their choosing. Scaling back helpline opening hours therefore sends out the wrong message as low-income workers may only be able to sort out financial matters during unsociable hours or the weekend."
Helplines during the week will continue to be open from 8am to 8pm, but will be cut to 8am to 4pm on Saturdays.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi
About H.M. Revenue & Customs (HMRC):
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was formed on the 18 April 2005, following the merger of Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise Departments. HMRC ensures the correct tax is paid at the right time, whether this relates to payment of taxes received by the department or entitlement to benefits paid.
Published: Friday, November 05, 2010