/ 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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Why doesn’t HMRC follow the private sector by moving away from telephone-based support and towards e-mail-based support? The private sector finds this more efficient and cost-effective and it also avoids callers having to wait in unacceptable telephone queues. HMRC should be trying to save taxpayer’s money by making its communication methods more efficient. Provided that HMRC answers e-mails within guaranteed timescales, perhaps somewhere between 4 and 24 hours (which is nevertheless a lot longer than its responsiveness to telephone calls), then those contacting HMRC will have a significantly improved experience. Of course, HMRC should keep telephone and postal communication for those who prefer to suffer those contact methods, but e-mail should become the norm.

The private sector often does not provide email contact facilities, just a web form. That wastes time and makes it difficult to keep a record of correspondence.

HM Revenue are currently working to the following standard for dealing with post
“We aim to respond fully within 15 working days. Our target is to achieve this in at least 80% of cases. Where we cannot do this, we will let you know the reason for the delay and tell you when you can expect a full reply”
Hopefully email would be quicker but my bank, Nationwide, work to 5 days for emails! And of course not all have access to computers

Will says:
13 March 2015

15 days? 48 Hours would be about acceptable. 3 days at a push.

Sophie Gilbert says:
16 December 2014

I had to phone HMRC a while ago and I found that I didn’t have to wait to get to someone for any length of time that was more (or less) inordinate than with any other “company”. I wouldn’t have wanted to email them anyway, I wanted to ask questions and hear answers from a human, and then ask more questions and have things reiterated there and then if necessary. I got the service I expected and was “happy” with it, “happy” in inverted commas because I found out I owed them money…

Joan Cowie says:
17 December 2014

I phoned HMRC on 15/12, I waited almost an hour to speak to an adviser, that was mid afternoon when their lines are supposed to be quieter, I gave up and I am dreading having to do it again, but will have to, as I have questions for them, they say they are improving, I don’t think so, and I’m sure I’m not the only person that feels that way.

Most people calling from a landline will have unlimited inclusive calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, of up to 60 minutes per call.

However, if the call to HMRC exceeds 60 minutes it will incur significant penalty charges of up to 10p per minute.

Those making a call from a contract mobile phone will not encounter this problem unless they have completely exhausted their monthly allowance.

Those who pay a per-minute rate for their calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers are probably on the wrong call plan.

Barbara Jenkins says:
19 December 2014

I received a demand for a large payment from HMRC. The following day I received Which. I took your advice and phoned just after 8 am. My phone call was answered within 5 mins and my whole problem was sorted within 16 minutes with a refund being made to me as I had made an error on my self assessment form. The advisor was very efficient and helpful although the continuous repetition of the same message while I was waiting for the phone to be answered was irritating .

I prefer to write to HMRC. I find I always get a competent and sensible response, always within a reasonable timescale, and any issues I have raised have been resolved very satisfactorily with new Notices of Coding and any refunds due issued very promptly. I have never tried telephoning HMRC and it seems it would not be a good use of my time.

Malcolm Snelling says:
19 December 2014

On 29 April 2014 HMRC wrote to me agreeing that I was due a tax refund of an amount of several hundred pounds and that this would be issued shortly. I have since that time written to them on three separate occasions reminding them that the refund has not yet been issued. My last two letters written in August and October have not been replied to. Although they are still collecting my income tax under PAYE they seem otherwise to no longer acknowledge my existence. I am now attempting to pursue this through the Adjudicator.

Robert Webb says:
21 December 2014

Don’t assume that an existing direct debit arrangement will collect an amount due following completion of a self assessment tax return. Any direct debit in favour of HMRC has to be set up for each and every payment.
I called the HMRC helpline to confirm that they would collect the amount due after completing and filing my return and, after an hour on the phone (and speaking to three different departments) was told that HMRC direct debits do not work like normal ones; they need to be set up for each payment.
The person I spoke to said they had a system in place for collecting VAT payments automatically, but not yet PAYE. I had always thought that setting up a direct debit avoided the risk of late payments (as in credit cards, phone bills, council tax etc). Clearly this is not the case for PAYE.
I wonder how many people fall foul of this and end up paying penalties for late payment as a consequence.
There does not appear to be anything on the HMRC website about this – if there is it must be buried somewhere.

P Jermy says:
30 December 2014

Talking to a HMRC helpline is difficult enough but try speaking to them about a deceased estate or whilst trying to help out another – both situations are well nigh impossible!!
As an Executor I tried several times to talk to someone about an issue but the “helpful” call centres do not recognise the legal entity of Executor – kept insisting on security questions about the deceased but as I pointed out to the individuals or section heads this was totally irrelevant. I even went through the local HMRC office but all they did was to point me to a Free-phone. In the end I had to lodge a formal complaint to get the issue resolved – writing to them was of little help either as they seemed to have no idea how to deal with the issue in question. Total time to resolve – about 6 months.
Similarly I tried on another time to help my 75 yr old sister just widowed. to resolve a tax problem over her husbands estate – helpful? Not one bit as they refused several times point blank to even discuss it with me. The result was that through my sister who had no inkling of the real problem, I had to have a three sided conversation with the so called ” helpline”, whilst a very straightforward issue was addressed. Total time – about 90 mins!!!

Poppy says:
9 January 2015

Have made several attempts to contact HMRC by ‘phone since mid December. Each time I’ve had to give up due to the cost of the calls to their 0300 number. This week I tried twice and held on for approximately 20 minutes the first time (cost of call £3-4 according to my landline ‘phone provider!) and 15 minutes the second time. Even the preamble questions take 2 mins before you even join the queue.
Absolutely appalling when, just a few years ago I could ‘phone on the 31 January tax return deadline day and have the call answered within a minute or two, and get an expert answering my query, or be able to turn up at the local tax office and see someone face to face.
Have just looked up the Complaints process on the HMRC website and there’s no email address to contact and no address to send complaints too – just the same 0300 ‘phone number! That’s one way of (a) maximising income to the Revenue from the cost of ‘phone calls (mostly from people who can’t afford the ‘phone call costs) and (b) minimising the number of complaints by making it impossible to complain.
If anyone has an address I can complain to, please respond to this post – many thanks.
Absolutely appalling and why is this Government doing nothing about it?

Ian says:
9 April 2015

Calls to 03 numbers cost the same as calling 01 and 02 numbers and count towards inclusive allowances on landlines and on mobile phones in the same way. Revenue sharing is not permitted on 03 numbers and the call price is set entirely by the caller’s provider.

Most people no longer pay a per minute rate for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers. Instead they pay for a package of inclusive calls that can be used at any time of the day or night and on any day of the week. The monthly cost is usually equivalent to the cost of making about 30 to 50 minutes of calls per month at the per minute rate.

Once you have the inclusive calls package, you can make as many calls as you like, all day every day, without incurring any more costs. If your current phone bill is extortionate, then you are on the wrong tariff or with the wrong provider. An anytime package can cost cost as little as £3 per month.

When it comes to finding the best deal for calling 01, 02 and 03 numbers, it is entirely down to the caller. Short of offering a freephone number, HMRC are already using the cheapest numbers available.

Let us fix the problem rather than looking for ways of making long calls cheaper. My time is too valuable to waste waiting for any organisation to deal with my call.

sally says:
4 February 2015

still holding. been 15.20 minutes so far. let you know when i get cut off as only £15 credit on phone!

sally says:
4 February 2015

ok been 23mins now and can’t justify hanging on any longer. thing is only want to ask why they’ve sent nil allowance tax code now i’ve changed jobs

no niprhged says:
4 February 2015

So far I have had the automated response machine take my details and then tell me that “we cannot help you” and then hang up on me. For my third try I have changed my tactics and replied to every question the machine asked with “I’d like to talk to a person” I am not in a que 18 minutes and counting…………

Well all the staff are pulled over to answer telephones whose performance can be easily measured as per this article. Remember ! Customers post is not being looked into and is only stockpiled to be later forgotten or thrown away. Not enough staff at HMRC.

Antonia says:
20 February 2015

Ive been on hold for an hour and 20 minutes and counting to update my tax credit information….

Daniel Sharp-Tetley says:
24 February 2015

Trying yet again to ring HMRC. Gave up the last couple of times after 25 minutes, now at 17 minutes,still no answer, just the annoying repeatative music! Last time I wrote I received no reply! The department is a joke, you get better service ringing a call centre in India. I may take the same stance and start refusing to acknowledge letters & calls from them!

Mr patel says:
24 February 2015

I’ve been on hold for nearly an hour!
I’ve disconnected the call 3 times holding at least 20mins each.
Absolutely diabolical
The automated service is so unprofessional too.
This needs to be sorted out.

Ms Draper says:
2 March 2015

Rang at 11.20am still waiting to be connected to an advisor, it’s now 11.50am! This is the second time I’ve tried appalling service.

karan Orlos says:
2 March 2015

i am still on hold after 33min no indication as to how long it will be so i am now thinking should i hang up? or wait a bit longer? dont want to start again from scratch grrrr they should have to pay a panalty this is the 3rd time i have had to call, their mistakes are costing me too much money!

Jess says:
2 March 2015

I’ve been waiting over an hour to get through then be passed on to someone else. Why should I have to pay for this call when I’m not talking to anyone. Very angry especially when you work all the time.