/ Money

Is this the UK’s slowest helpline?

As the deadline for self-assessment tax returns looms we embarked on our annual check-up on HMRC helpline waiting times. The results are in, and it looks like lengthy waits could be in store for you.

Working on our new HMRC call waiting times investigation felt a bit like ‘Groundhog Day’ for me.

Just like just last year, we made 100 calls to the self-assessment and general enquiries helplines and recorded how long it took to get through to an adviser.

And just like last year, we were shocked by the average wait- a shocking 38 minutes, compared to 18 minutes in 2014.

Flagging the findings

Call waiting times table HMRCAlmost one in five calls we made kept us waiting for over an hour. This might not surprise some commenters on Which? Conversation but, even so, it’s pretty outrageous.

HMRC has now modified its switchboard, so that fewer calls get cut off automatically. This year only 7 of our 100 calls were terminated, compared with 29 last year.

We found that the later in the day we called, the longer we were waiting. Before 2pm the average wait was 28 minutes but after 6pm it increased to 61 minutes. And the longest wait we had was 1 hour 16 minutes.

So we put our findings to HMRC, who acknowledged that;

‘Our service levels have not been good enough for many customers at busy periods this year, and improvements have taken longer than we’d hoped.’

So what does this mean for you?

Well our findings show that it’s not an easy task to get through to HMRC on the phone. But there are some positive developments that are worth noting, and these could help you.

HMRC has just announced that it will launch ‘personal tax accounts’ for those of you who already submit your tax return online. It aims to give all taxpayers access to a digital account by April 2016. You’ll have to log in to use them, in the same way that you do to file online.

And there’s already a facility to ask questions through a live web chat service. It’s designed for more general tax queries and is less secure than personal accounts – you can find it on HMRC’s online helpdesk. I used it recently and received an answer to my query in just one minute!

So as the online tax returns deadline approaches (January 31) it’s worth bearing these call waiting times in mind. We’ve developed a tax calculator and there are also helpful notes to make sure you claim any tax deductible allowances you’re entitled to. Don’t leave it too late though – especially if you need to call HMRC to check a final detail.

So have you noticed any change in HMRC’s telephone waiting times? Will you use these alternative ways of communicating with HMRC?

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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ArchDudeOfYork says:
10 October 2016

We’d all wait a little less if companies like you weren’t making 100 calls to them just to see how long it took

Carol C says:
6 April 2017

Why doesnt the Govenment state an acceptable waiting period for phone calls , after which the company becomes liable to pay , which is then deducted from customers bill?
I am sure it would not be too long before this unacceptable state of affairs will be remedied.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

The “you have already voted for this comment” message pops up all the time even when it is obvious [from the timing] that nobody has voted for or against the comment. I feel the sooner the voting buttons are removed from this site the better it will be because they cause too much confusion and general upsetment and are not a reliable indicator of the strength of support or opposition.

I heartily agree, John.

Hello Duncan, that shouldn’t be happening. Have you tried voting on other comments? We’re working on getting the email notifications fixed – sorry this is taking some time.

It happens randomly, Lauren, but I don’t think it’s personal.

That’s annoying. I’ve flagged it for our developer to take a look at and I’ve also asked for the email subscriptions to be fixed as a priority. Thanks for letting me know.

This comment was removed at the request of the user