A severe dip in customer service levels cost callers to HMRC a shocking £97 million in 2015-16,
according to a report released today by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The report found that although HMRC “maintained or improved” its customer service running up to 2013-14, things went badly wrong when too many customer service staff were released. It concluded that the quality of service provided by HMRC collapsed in 2014-15, while average call waiting times tripled in the first seven months of 2015-16.

The switch to a cheaper “03” telephone number in September 2013 helped save £2 million in costs, but this was completely overshadowed the economic costs caused by increases in call waiting times.

Call waiting times peak at 47 minutes

According to the report, only 71% of calls to HMRC were handled in 2014-15, while average waiting times for Self-Assessment callers peaked at 47 minutes in the first seven months of 2015-16. However, the report also found that, thanks to 2,400 extra helpline staff being recruited, call waiting times for Self-Assessment queries improved to an average of just 5 minutes during the traditional peak period in January 2016.

In response to the report, HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, Ruth Owen, said:

“We recognise that early in 2015 we didn’t provide the standard of service that people are entitled to expect and we apologised at the time. We have since fully recovered and are now offering our best service levels in years.

“Over the past six months we’ve consistently answered calls in an average of less than six minutes, and have launched new online tax accounts and webchat for everyone, enabling customers to manage their tax affairs wherever and whenever they want.

“There’s never been a better or more convenient service for our customers.”

How easy do you find it to contact HMRC with your tax queries? Do you feel customer service levels have improved this year? Leave your comments below…