Covid-19 pushes HMRC call waiting time targets further out of reach

The taxman is asking contractors who phone him to have a bit of understanding – and patience, as covid-19 is making his call waiting time targets even more difficult to hit.

HM Revenue & Customs said yesterday the “extraordinary” pandemic situation was largely behind a surge in taxpayers ringing in, and facing “a longer waiting time than we’d like”.

Officially, that time is five minutes – how long it should take customers to get through to a human being at HMRC, having until then been stuck in its automated system.

'Eight minutes, 22 seconds to wait'

But callers to HMRC in September 2020 (the last month for which data are available) had to wait an average of eight minutes 22 seconds, so nowhere near the five-minute target.

In May, at the heart of pandemic support schemes, it was much worse with callers waiting an average of 14 minutes 59 seconds, about three times longer than they should be waiting.

Averaged out for the year so far, it takes six minutes 39 seconds to get through to a person at HMRC in 2020, compared to last year’s five minutes 14 seconds.

But this is not the only objective HMRC is flouting on the phone for two years in a row. Its other big target is to not have more than 15% of callers waiting for more than 10 minutes.

'We're sorry'

Yet the department’s annual accounts reveal that this year, 29.9 per cent of customers got put on hold for over 10 minutes, up from last year’s lesser but still significant 19 per cent.

“Our telephony service has been impacted by the measures we put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus,” a spokesman for HMRC said yesterday.

“We are sorry that, particularly at busy times, some customers have had to wait longer than we would usually expect. We are doing all we can to bring our waiting times down”.

'Covid impact will continue'

The Revenue spokesman said that reducing call waiting times to “as low as possible” would be the tax authority’s focus, especially during the “busier times”.

Less reassuringly, HMRC’s annual accounts indicate that frustrations for callers will persist:

“From March 2020, COVID-19 resulted in changes to customer behaviour and the introduction of new support schemes, which affected our ability to maintain performance.

“This impact on our customer service channels will continue into financial year 2020 to 2021.” 

'Empathy and understanding please'

Asked specifically about the impact on one-person companies, the HMRC spokesman acknowledged “how frustrating it is for small traders” when they want get through to tax staff but can’t.

“But these are extraordinary times and I’d urge a bit of empathy and understanding,” the spokesman appealed, alluding to HMRC reducing its operating hours, partly to support its officials who were ill, vulnerable or had caring responsibilities. “HMRC has a duty to protect its members of staff and their families and this has an impact on the service we can deliver.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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