/ Money

Have HMRC helplines left you hanging on?

It’s true that Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs gets a lot of calls (60m a year) but, even so, our findings paint a less than flattering picture. Have you been left hanging on the phone by HMRC?

We made 100 calls to HMRC’s self-assessment and general enquiries helplines to see how easy it is to get through to an adviser. Nearly a third of our calls were cut off because the switchboard was ‘too busy’.

When we did get through, the average time we had to wait to speak to an adviser was 18 minutes. On one call we were left waiting for 41 minutes.

Getting through to HMRC

The irony is that HMRC can be very helpful when you do get through. I’ve always found them knowledgeable and pleasant to deal with – so I keep holding on in the hope of getting through.

Understanding tax isn’t always easy, which is why being able to make contact is so important. All the more so as the self-assessment deadline on 31 January approaches.

I’ve also had trouble writing to HMRC. I tried this summer and was told to wait for five weeks before calling, since it took them that long to open the post! Sending an email might have been quicker, but you can only do that if you’re changing your address or querying your tax code. All other queries have to be by phone or post.

HMRC call waiting times

To be fair, HMRC do acknowledge its shortcomings and have assured us that it is ‘working hard to improve the service we provide’. The target it’s working towards is only 80% however, so that still means that a fifth of all callers could struggle to get through.

Phoning in the morning seems to work best. HMRC admits this on its website, advising callers that, ‘phone lines are less busy before 10am, Monday to Friday’. Our research confirmed this is the case, with more calls cut off in the afternoon and the time spent waiting rising steadily throughout the day.

We all have to pay tax, so we’re all HMRC ‘customers’. Getting through to them shouldn’t be such a lottery, or mean you’ve got to phone before you’ve had your breakfast. We want to see HMRC doing more to monitor and improve its call waiting times. To this end, we’ve shared our investigation with the Treasury and HMRC and have also briefed the Public Accounts Committee.

How have you found dealing with HMRC? Have you had trouble getting through to them on the phone? Tell us how long you’ve been kept on hold?

How long has HMRC kept you hanging on the line?

31-45 minutes (26%, 2,269 Votes)

46-60 minutes (26%, 2,242 Votes)

More than 60 minutes (24%, 2,030 Votes)

21-30 minutes (15%, 1,302 Votes)

11-20 minutes (6%, 475 Votes)

6-10 minutes (2%, 178 Votes)

Up to 5 minutes (2%, 133 Votes)

Total Voters: 8,629

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I have the perfect solution for ANY company that puts you on hold (their fault not yours) MAKE THEM PAY FOR YOUR CALL WHILE YOU ARE HOLDING. I bet you would see holding times plummet. I called to make a repayment. 4 Different times I was on hold for over 30 minutes and I STILL havent got through. Completely unacceptable.

Emily says:
26 October 2015

42 minutes listening to that music just to be cut off! Absolute decrease. Funny how you can get though fast Enough when you owe them money. All these people have had the same thing happen them, what I want to know is who are these people who are getting though in “11 minutes” or less. Get some more people on the phones because at 40p a minute and having everyone hanging on for an hour you’ve got enough to pay them!

Chris says:
28 October 2015

I hope this info will help others: The best time to call HMRC is 7.55am. After making many calls to HMRC and being cut off after being on hold for over half an hour each time I have got through although it still took 20 minutes being on hold.

Nadia Guetat says:
1 November 2015

I’m going to moan here seeing as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the HMRC website to complain apart from calling and I’d rather not do that EVER again. I was kept hanging on for 55 min (!!!) fortunately my query was dealt with efficiently however ended with a sting in its tail – my two calls were charged over £10. An absolute disgrace! Does anyone know if I could get this money back or am I completely deluded??

Janet says:
3 November 2015

What an absolute joke, been in queue on endless occasions for 45 plus minutes and still not had my query dealt with. Don’t these people realise people haven’t got all day to waste on the phone, we have to go out to work and then spend our days off getting telephone elbow and a very expensive phone bill!! It’s a disgrace.

An update: HMRC has been criticised for failing to answer more than half of the telephone calls it received during the first six months of 2015.

In a report conducted by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, it was suggested that HMRC’s ‘unacceptable’ customer service could be having an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues.

HMRC’s call handling record was severely criticised in the report. It suggested;

Only 72.5% of calls were answered in 2014-15
This fell to 50% over first half of 2015
Of the calls that did get through, only 39% were answered within five minutes

The report added: ‘HMRC did not provide us with any indication of when or by how much its customer service would improve, beyond a vague aim to improve year-on-year. We are concerned that customer service levels are so bad that they are having an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues.’


The problem has now been recognised officially, but unless action is taken, the problem will continue. If we encounter poor customer service from a company we can use a different company, but that is not an option with HMRC.

steviec says:
5 November 2015

Just a note that any call lasting more than 60 minutes will probably be charged. Most providers “free” packages exclude 0300 calls lasting over an hour. I finally got through after 85 minutes and ended up with a £3.50 phone bill!

will sargent says:
6 November 2015

Hi every time I get to first in the queue I get bumped off!

sean says:
6 November 2015

I have called the tax office over 3 days and did not get through- only to find that they had charged £68.00 in call charges and I did not even get to talk to any one.
To say I am not happy is an under statement how the hell can they get away with charging this sort of money.
I can’t even get through to them to sort out a tax bill they said we have for £256.00 when they said I had 2 x jobs . when I have never had 2 x jobs at the same time ?? but i will have to pay it as i can not afford to call them by the time i get the tax sorted out they will still get £256.00 in call charges ??

the most recent wheeze is that someone answers the phone fairly quickly, but they can’t answer your query – and the ‘expert’ will ring back ‘some time in the next 2-3 working days’ – this happened to me, but also to a panellist on ‘the news quiz’

I phoned the tax office today at 3pm after having waited half a hour I eventually spoke to someone re an on going issue since late 2012 absolute terrible service

David says:
18 December 2015

I waited 1 hour and 13 mins to get an answer after trying a few times, to inform them I was on the wrong tax code , the chap then put me on the correct tax code and when I inquired if the call will cost me, he told me it was a free phone number only to be billed £13 56p for it, I contacted BT who said I was given false information.

sinead says:
30 December 2015

I am a single parent on a low income and more than half my phone bill, was to the hmrc (kept waiting) – not even talking. I know this because I ended up having to put the phone down, to see to my child. So disappointed and was trying to update them on a change of circumstances. ie my new employment status.

lesley says:
13 January 2016

Just got through on 01355359022 after just a few short rings, it was the Glasgow HMRC office. Just luck or divine intervention??

Have tried for weeks only get engaged signal, would be good if I could just get through to be put on hold.

I know it is pointless to moan about this useless organisation but the fact that you have to say in a few words what you need and when you say I want to speak to an advisor they still continue to try to direct you to an automatic service that you can’t access because they haven’t given you the right information and you can’t go online because there isn’t a box to type what you need to do so the website is rendered useless. Frankly, it makes me want to evade tax to avoid the hassle of dealing with the revenue. I would LOVE to do the business I want to do on line without having to go through any more palaver but I can’t because I don’t have the information….

Been trying to get through to these, thing is I don’t have the time, I work 18 hours a day and fit in sleep round that I work weekends. I run a small company, I can’t pay my corporation tax, this was due to being screwed by my last two accountants and now having to do my own ct600, and now on a personal level, they are telling me that I owe a student loan, and I haven’t accounted for it in my tax return, I have never had a statement fron the student loans company and never had any student loan taken from me when I was PAYE.

So ok they say I owe this money fine, I will pay what I owe, but they have also said I have deliberately not paid the £5000 ish and they have also fined £3060 on top totalling £8060 and then say pay up, I don’t have any where near this kind of money, I still have my bills to pay and have to live and I am now working several contracts to pay the corporation tax back (yes the old BS that one shouldn’t use money for corporation tax, but all I have to say to anyone like that is F-off, you have to live and pay bills when the sh*t hits the fan!) Anyway the total lack of being able to contact them via email or get through on the on the phone has escalated this to proportions that is ridiculous, I have received letters saying they are going to monitor everything I do and put claims in in my home…. They won’t be happy till I’m unable to work and homeless!

sophie says:
8 November 2017

For 6 months I have tried approx 23 times to call. I live abroad and the calls are not free. Twice I have gotten through to ask them to resend my invoice for pension contributions that never has been delivered by post. I have until the end of this year to make up lost pension contributions, and I’ll lose those years because I cannot get through. Very disappointed.

Me says:
5 March 2021

47 mins waiting then they just cut me of while im on hold.