/ Money

Hold on HMRC – how much is this costing us?

Time is money

£97m is the estimated cost to callers trying to get through to HM Revenue & Customs for tax help and advice last year. Is it acceptable? We think not.

As some of you will know, over the past two years our research has tracked HMRC call waiting times, showing time and time again just how difficult it’s been for you to get through to HMRC.

Well today the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed between 2014-2015 call waiting times tripled, with the estimated total cost to callers being around £97m.

Call waiting times

It’s no surprise to us that HMRC call waiting times worsened last year. In December we ran a poll on Which? Conversation asking ‘How long has HMRC kept you hanging on the line?’. The results of which revealed that 26% had been kept hanging on for 31-45 minutes, a further 26% for 46-60 minutes and 24% for over an hour.

As M.Darlington explained:

‘I selected 30 mins [in the poll] as the longest time kept waiting only because I gave up after 30 mins each time. My sister, niece and I tried for a day and a half to get through.’

Each caller’s time is worth an average of £17 per hour, according to the NAO.

And so based on this, the calculated cost of calling HMRC alone last year was around £10m, while hold times racked up about £66m. And actually talking to HMRC comes in at around £21m.

Call waiting times peaked when HMRC made a hopeful bid to push callers to their digital services, this also aligned with a premature cut to its call handling workforce.

These long waiting times are simply unacceptable, and these NAO calculated costs only add insult to injury. It’s clear that improvement is needed.

Improvement is needed

We’re urging HMRC to continue to work hard to tackle their customer service and reduce call-waiting times. Some progress has been made, with the HMRC online helpdesk facility and the announcement of digital accounts for online self-assessment tax returns. But it’s clear that more is needed.

Until there are viable alternatives to ringing to discuss tax affairs, there’s no choice but to wait, which is simply unfair on those callers who are in urgent need of tax help and advice.

So have you tried calling HMRC recently? How long did it take for you to speak to HMRC? Would you like to see more alternatives to calling?

Ian says:
25 May 2016

If you have the appropriate call plan (on your landline or on your mobile) covering the time of day when you make calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers the cost for each individual call will be ZERO.

If you choose to pay an extortionate per-minute rate for calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers, you’re more than likely on the wrong call plan or with the wrong provider.

Robert C says:
29 May 2016

This is missing the point, why SHOULD we wait ages to sort out tax affairs? We are paying – we should be treated with a measure of respect. My time is not worthless. Those working in an office of factory have only 30 mins or so at lunchtime to call HMRC, how are they supposed to sort out their tax affairs? (the web service is fine, until you need help wit that). Some better organisations have a call back service – if they have long queues, they call you back when they are quieter.

Jon Hare says:
2 February 2022

This is absolutely not the point… charging people to be put on hold on ANY phone line provided by anyone should be illegal.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Ian says:
26 May 2016

Now that customer services, financial services, public services and healthcare services are no longer allowed to use premium rate 084, 087 and 09 numbers with an additional Service Charge, there should be almost no need to ever call these numbers for day-to-day routine communication with businesses and organisations.

Apart from a few companies that have failed to understand what callers are paying for these calls, and retain them for inappropriate purposes, these numbers are now the preserve of chargeable premium rate services such as chatlines, voting on a show, competitions, etc.

Getting the best deal on your landline or mobile is now all about getting the appropriate inclusive allowance covering calls to geographic numbers starting 01 and 02, non-geographic numbers starting 03 and mobile numbers starting 071-075 and 077-079. Once you have paid the monthly fee for that, and if you can avoid making calls to premium numbers starting 070, 084, 087, 09 and 118, there should be nothing further to pay.

For the vast majority of people, the days of paying a per-minute rate for calls to ordinary landline and mobile numbers are well and truly over. This applies even on pay-as-you-go. Nearly all mobile networks offer a range of inclusive deals with hundreds of minutes of calls and hundreds of texts for £5 and hundreds more for another £5.

Robert C says:
29 May 2016

the subject is waiting times for HMRC, not phone charges in general

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Ian says:
27 May 2016

All calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers are chargeable. Calls to 03 numbers must be charged on the same basis as whatever you have already agreed for your calls to 01 and 02 numbers. Additionally, revenue sharing is not permitted on these numbers. These Ofcom rules have been in place since 2007.

Each caller has complete control over how much they pay for their calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers. The call price is set entirely by the caller’s landline or mobile provider. Everyone has the choice of paying either a set monthly fee for a bundle inclusive calls or paying for each call at a per-minute rate. This applies on landlines and on mobiles, even on pay-as-you-go.

In general, if you use your landline for more than 20 minutes per week or you use your mobile for more than 20 minutes per month, paying a per-minute rate for calls will be cost you a lot more than paying for an inclusive allowance of calls.

If your calls to 01, 02 and 03 numbers are costing a fortune, you are likely on the wrong call plan for your needs or with entirely the wrong provider. Why spend 11p per minute from a landline when £8 per month gives unlimited calls? Why spend 45p per minute from a mobile when a £5 top up will give you 200 minutes?

Most advice to consumers is firmly stuck in the past and has failed to take into account that inclusive call allowances are now the ‘normal’ way to pay for calls (to 01, 02 and 03 numbers). Phone networks can confirm that almost all calls are now made this way.

Lydia says:
28 May 2016

The only occasions I tried to phone , if I didn’t hang up I’d been waiting from 45 – 60 mins. I’d successfully used the online forms once and attempted to find the info I needed online but couldn’t. Unless your query is very specific it’s not helpful ! its not about the cost of the call as it was free within my call plan – but the cost in time is huge ! I’m a teacher and I was so desperate once that I left the phone ringing on speaker phone in the cupboard whilst I carried on teaching as it hadn’t picked up throughout my v short lunch break !!! ( ps I was never home early enough to get through before they shut !!)

I called on three occasions for 25, 27 and 20 minutes. On each occasion I was cut off without anyone answering the phone. I then tried early in the morning and was answered after 5 minutes. Since then someone has answered the phone promptly but this was maybe because I was given a specific number for a specific non-standard question.