/ 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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Not only the waiting time is long you then are given different number to contact adding to frustration

L. Hoppen & Co. (Chartered Certified Accountants) says:
17 December 2015

This is so true, especially as the website phone number offered is not the one that you require, due to the different types of taxation. I am in a LinkedIn group about this topic (ICPA). Have a read of that.

Yes that right. I waited 45 mins to to get through only to be given a different phone number.

First Utility are as bad…so glad I moved from that shower….

It’s frustrating and I am hesitant to call HMRC for that reason and write to them. The replies take much much longer.

Gave up waiting and wrote them a letter. Now the ball is in their court.

After twice waiting about 30 minutes for a connection and then on the second occasion being cut off before my query was answered (without the courtesy of a ring back either),I have refused to waste time on this “service”. If HMRC cannot employ enough personnel to ensure a prompt response,why do they install a queuing system which estimates how long your wait is expected to be ? You know then where you stand and can chose to hang on or ring off as suits you. This system is operational with e.g. the French Telephone helpline. While not necessarily accurate,it is much better than being left totally in the dark.

it’a amazing how quickly they contact you when they think you owe money, but try the other way round, kept waiting for an age, then givemn a completely different number and the process happens all over again. Takes them an age to answer any form of contact/correspondance.

I had the same problems earlier this year (around February). I had to call them several times about a very tricky issue.

I do have to say though that once I finally got through they were very helpful.

However, my experiences with long wait times with phone calls to Scottish Power were even worse. With Energy providers at least you can change your supplier which I have now done. Unfortunately, you don’t have that option with HMRC.

Dennis says:
17 December 2015

why small time scale? longest I have had is 7hrs on hold! good side was free call. Rang next morning 7.58 and was through by 8. enquiry sorted in 5mins!

Don’t know that you can call it a “help” line because they don’t help. I was on hold so long the battery ran out on my LANDLINE.

Ken MacDonald says:
17 December 2015

Four attempts to call for advice, all given up in exasperation after 45 mins. – at least the problem/delays are consistent!
Also still awaiting a reply to correspondence sent 24/10/2015( Proof of delivery) challenging a self-assessment calculation ; to date not even received an acknowledgement.

Couldn’t get through at all for several days. After navigating through the automated menu system, I got to the right queue and then just got a message saying sorry, we are busy, call back later or another day, and then they disconnected my call!

I waited 1 hour and 12 minutes and was then cut off. A good example of what the bureaucracy thinks of us these days !

When I phone, I don’t have to wait at all. I get immediate attention. The reason for this is, I speak Welsh and the service is faultless!

Nickie Aspeotis says:
17 December 2015

I think it’s an absolute disgrace. We pay taxes to fund this service so let’s see it get proper funding !!

In our experience HMRC has been a nightmare both in pestering my family for unpaid taxes and then giving refunds when they find that they have made mistakes. We both have state pensions and civil service pensions, no other income, so you would think calculating our due tax would be simple. Not for them apparently. Trying to sort it out was horrendous.

Phone on your mobile, to the “Overseas” number. They seem to answer much faster, and you can use your free minutes if you have them. (You mustn’t let slip that you’re in the UK, or they’ll hang up.)

Malcolm says:
17 December 2015

This year on the 5th attempt , after waiting nearly half an hour each attempt before giving up , I got through.
I wanted to file a claim for some savings interest that had been taxed in a previous year. I was informed by the advisor that the income tax taken off was nothing to do with HMRC as it was the bank that had taxed me so I was not entitled to a refund !!! After consulting with his supervisor it was then resolved.

Years ago when I was self employed I found the HMRC phone service was staffed by knowledgeable and really helpful people , with very little hold time, and was an excellent service. Now …….

not only long waiting times but use bullying tactics when setting up a payment scheme

Dorothy Howson says:
17 December 2015

I had to speak to them about my 17 year old son who was taxed when he shouldn’t have been. I was kept on hold for so long that my son had to leave the house before they answered, I stayed on the line but when they did finally answer they wouldn’t talk to me as it wasn’t my tax problem. It’s outrageous.

The Child Support Agency are just as bad.

Employers with questions on tax issues or trying to speak to the Tax Office when they obviously have made a mistake have to waiting in the same queues there are no employers specific numbers.