Today marks the first working day of 2015 and for many freelancers, contractors and small business owners emerging from the Christmas and New Years haze, the realisation that they have just 29 days remaining to complete their Self Assessment tax return.
For the hundreds of thousands who will be filing their personal tax for the first time, figures reported yesterday by the BBC could be cause for concern. Despite promises to the contrary, HMRC’s call centre waiting times have not just increased but doubled between September 2013 and September 2014.
In 2013 the average wait time on HMRC’s helplines was five minutes 21 seconds, but a year later had more than doubled to ten minutes and 53 seconds. With demand increasing exponentially in January and HMRC continuing to make drastic cutbacks, this year’s Self Assessment deadline looks set to be an excruciating one for those reliant on telephone support.
The figures also revealed that 34.5% of calls were cut off (normally as a result of the caller simply giving up), up from 20.5% last year, and the number of calls answered in under 2 minutes dropped from half to just a quarter.
HMRC said they plan to move around 1,500 staff onto phone lines in January to help cope with the Self Assessment deluge, and was also improving support on other channels, including self-service help on their website, and support on Twitter through their new @HMRCcustomers channel. The suggestion that Twitter should play a major role in customer support was deemed “rubbish, naive, stupid and facile” by Mark Garnier, a Conservative MP and member of the Treasury Select Committee. The Committee’s Chair, Margaret Hodge MP, also branded Twitter support “laughable”.
Some 11.2 million people are due to file Self Assessment tax returns this year, up almost half a million from the 10.7 million returns due in January 2014.
Photo by HMRC