/ Money

How long have HMRC helplines kept you waiting?

Person making phone call

You’re still facing long waiting times and having your call cut off when phoning Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs – that’s clear from the stories you’ve told us. So we’re starting a poll to find out how long you’ve waited.

We highlighted the problem with HMRC’s self assessment helplines five months ago and since then thousands of you have read the investigation and we’ve had nearly 200 comments telling us what happened to you.

And sadly there is no sign that the problem is getting any better as the complaints are continuing to come in.

Your problems with HMRC

Here are just a few of your stories. Kate tried for more than a month to let HMRC know about her change of circumstances.

‘I’ve been on every day for 40 minutes plus every time. Getting nowhere and absolutely dreading my phone bill.’

Joseph needed to know why his tax code was changed.

‘I’ve been taxed an extra £200 last month when I’m already on a low wage working in London – leaving me well short of what I need to live on.’

He called multiple times after work and during lunch breaks but whatever ‘option’ he tried, was always told ‘we’re very busy right now and all our agents are on other calls’.

Gemma suggested trying the adviser helpline number (01355 359022) to get through faster. It’s worth trying, but you may still face a frustrating wait once your call is forwarded.

How HMRC plans to tackle the problem

We met with HMRC shortly after publishing our investigation and it admitted there was a problem. It hired extra staff for the January ‘tax season’ and trained more people to take calls.

It plans to develop a ‘digital account’ that lets you communicate securely online. The idea is to relieve pressure on call centres by making it easier to update details and find basic information, but plans haven’t been finalised.

It’s worrying that getting through by phone is still a problem, long after the tax return deadline has passed. Waiting times of more than 20 minutes now, doesn’t bode well for later in the year.

Call HMRC early

For the general enquiries number (0300 200 3300) and self-assessment (0300 200 3310), the best advice still seems to be ‘call early’. HMRC opens at 8am, so putting in a call before breakfast is recommended.

Calling later increases your risk of being cut off. Don’t forget lines close at 4pm on Saturday (and aren’t open at all on Sunday and bank holidays), so try weekday mornings – let us know how you get on!

What is your experience of dealing with HMRC – is it worse than other organisations you need to contact? And what about the voice-recognition system?

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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J Cattell says:
27 October 2015

They could reduce the number of calls they get by 90% if they calculated tax properly and also recovered all the millions owed by big corporations. This would enable them to employ more staff and train them. Who actually understands tax calculations – this is why they get so many calls? My Father received 20 letters, from different HMRC offices because he wanted to declare a £15.00 pension! Now been holding on the phone for 41 minutes – average call wait is 35 minutes. This is the third time I have tried to call. Hello Government – are you listening and what do you propose to do to stop this crazy mess? This is far more important than debates about people eating excessive amounts of sugar – which they are aware of anyway.

Been trying all week. Recordede message says it may take up to 35 minutes. Gave up today after 58 minutes. Grr

3 months and still no one in… can i take these people to a court to get my answers…..

Spent two hours on hold yesterday (smashing the 35 min waiting time I was promised!) I am now on 33min today… After reading the above I don’t feel hopeful. I guess I will be charging my rent and phone bill to the tax man this month?!

Tried yesterday 28 Oct 2015 three times – first 58 mins then tried twice more – after 40 mins plus each time I was losing the will to live – trying right now 29 Oct @ 11:20 and been on hold for 48 mins – this is totally and utterly appalling – if ever an organisation was in need of a shake up then this is it – WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GET THIS SHODDY SERVICE SORTED – MR CAMERON OR MR OSBORNE PLEASE GET A GRIP OF THIS ORGANISATION I nearly said “service” but that would have been a contradiction in terms to what the TAX PAYING PUBLIC actually get!!!!

59 mins and I’m through – yay!!

Wastingmylifeonhold says:
29 October 2015

Who said tax doesn’t have to be taxing? 52 mins and counting… to get my tax code put right AGAIN! If I was this crap at my job people would drown. In fact, I might drown myself right now… and sort that bloody music out!

Finn says:
29 October 2015

78 minutes and counting. Committed to getting through to someone now as a matter of principle! Absolutely dreading my phone bill…

This is beyond ridiculous as if we don’t have enough trouble with wrong tax codes, whats the job of the accountant I don’t understand? Is it my fault a tax code is wrong in error, that I have to be taxed more than I should be, I already am a student I don’t work enough to earn enough let alone to be taxed. Beyond ridiculous this will be the 4th month they use the emergency tax code so I get taxed more! Awesome! I have been on the phone waiting for over 60 minutes now!

Fix up your services HMRC

Maggie Black says:
2 November 2015

I have tried on three occasions to contact HMR by phone today. On each occasion the call has lasted more than 50mins before I gave up waiting on anyone answering my calls. Very poor service, perhaps some of my tax money could go to providing more employment for staff to answer calls. Alternatively, at the very least the offer of a less irritating arrangement of music your subjected to listen to whilst waiting the ridiculously lengthy time.

Maggie Black says:
2 November 2015

That’s shocking, perhaps we need to go back to writing letters ! It might be less time consuming and expensive.

Chelle says:
4 November 2015

I got my P800 the other day with an unspecified ‘adjustment’ and stating I owed tax. I needed clarification on what this adjustment was for so I called them around 7pm. They kept me waiting for 57 minutes before cutting me off (as they close at 8pm). So that’s almost £7 in call costs and I didn’t even get to speak to anyone. I work long hours so can only call in the evenings, which appears to be peak time. Not very happy.

Yes Chelle,
Having the exact same problem. Impossible to get to speak to anyone about the P800 which I’m sure is wrong & they have the nerve to be charging interest if you don’t pay on time. No one pays a bill which they think is incorrect & how in the hell do you query it when you can’t speak to anyone. Been trying on 7 off for 2 weeks now at different times of day, phone calls have amounted to over 10.00 so far & no online service to contact these idiots!

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.’


I am surprised that as many as “39% were answered within five minutes”. The experience of people contributing to this site – and obviously people who get a quick response don’t complain – would suggest that waits as long as an hour are the norm. You either get answered in five minutes or less, or you have to hang on for ages – there seems to be no middle level of service. And they have the gall to fine people whose tax returns are one day late when they have probably had to call the tax office many times and wait and wait just to get all the information they need.

James says:
10 November 2015

Been on hold for 43 mins, then cut me off. Tried a second time and was cut off after 56 mins.

I find it appauling as they are making a large profit from keeping people waiting on chargeable lines. I’ve spent well over £10 now and not even got through! Great business model. Make a few pence from each call minute. Keep them waiting for ages, milk the money, then cut them off!

Scam if ever I seen one!!!

John Gee says:
23 November 2015

If you hold the line for 50 minutes plus, does that mean you listen to the horrible music for all that time? I’ve tried for 3 minutes and couldn’t take the cheesy torment and the silly advice to get help online. If I had found the answer online, I wouldn’t be on the phone. I sent off a tax return in the post long ago and got no reply by post. I’m not sure what to try nest – maybe a complaint to my MP.

karen says:
18 December 2015

finally got through after 45 minutes only cos i was determined to carry it through

Had problems with the web site and blank pages so, I used the webchat facility to report them. I didn’t have to wait long for a response to webchat (less than 5 mins) but the call does take longer to handle (typing speed – though I’m not too slow).

Webchat was useful as I could multi-task on my laptop. Also, as it was website problems I could easily pass information, eg my identification, error messages, etc, to the call handler. They couldn’t solve the problem on the spot but, I was given a case reference and asked to pass screen shots to the online services helpdesk.

Later that day I solved the website problem myself. Here’s a tip for all you online filers:

** I was using my browser in ‘Private Browsing’ mode. As soon as I used ‘normal’ mode the site functioned properly. **

Though I think HMRC should fix their site so it works with ‘Private Browsing’…

I agree with your comment about Private Browsing, Gordon. I have just been using the Waitrose website and that’s another example where you have to turn off private browsing. Other official sites and companies seem to manage without this requirement.

I believe that’s because various browsers implement ‘private’ in different ways. If your browser disallows cookies, you won’t be able to use any shopping website.

Thanks Ian. I will look at this next time I order online.

2 cut off calls, 3 useless calls, 3 letters and I finally managed to speak to someone who understood my query and I managed to convince HMRC that we hadn’t overpaid tax and they didn’t owe us any money – for the length of time it took perhaps we should have kept the “overpaid tax” and offset it against my wages. To add insult to injury, after it was sorted out, I then got further letter from HMRC querying my 1st letter (sent 5 months earlier) telling me there was no overpayment on our account! Don’t these people ever speak to each other?

HMRC also trying to force one to do everything on the website. No dedicated number just one for general inquires is given to pay tax on the tax demand form. If you ring after many push button etc it tells you to refer to the website. We wish to avoid bank account fraud telephoning is safer. With some queiries we held on for 35 mins cut off then another 20 mins cut off. Another day after our free 60 mins on the call ended up with a bill as over 60 mins waiting then speaking after 65 mins!!!

Julia Strong says:
9 January 2016

I was left a message on my phone to ring about a query relating to my VAT registration. I have tried ringing the number they left me at different times of the day about 100 times. I haven’t even managed to be kept on hold. Most of the time it is engaged. Occasionally it rings and then a few seconds later reverts to the engaged tone. Since I cannot send an invoice without a VAT number and they haven’t sent me my VAT number, I’m not impressed.