/ 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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The general level of support the HMRC gives the public is getting worse. I’ve just retired and am wanting to close down my company (two employees – my wife and me). I’ve stopped the payroll and deregistered from VAT which was surprising easy. I now need to deregister from Companies House, but can’t do that until I’ve submitted my final company accounts, my company accounting year running March to February.

In previous years, this was done by downloading an HMRC active PDF which created the company accounts and submitted them to HMRC and Companies House. Great!!!

So I log on and find out that this option is no longer available. It only applies for companies whose accounting year completes by December 2015. The alternative is to use their new CATO form, an interactive Internet solution… sounds good? It’s labelled “Trial”. It’s all that’s available and it’s only at Trial level. I use it, submit it and it’s rejected by “HMRC Data Check. Error code 3001.” I can phone them or send an email, so I phone HMRC and go through their slow and ineffective phone menu and wait to speak to their “Online Help Service”. It rings, and rings,…

Eventually, it’s picked up, but because the software is only “Trial”, they haven’t got the faintest idea as to what’s gone wrong. They can’t even tell me what a “3001 error” is. So, I send an email… This was the reply…

“Thank you for highlighting this problem. I am sorry you encountered problems when using the new trial service.

The information you provided has helped us identify a problem in the service and we are working to fix this. Unfortunately I cannot give you a date for when this will be fixed.

If you cannot wait to use the service, the alternative HMRC free filing software is still available for eligible companies, or the Companies House software for Companies House only filings.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Of course to be “eligible” your accounts have to have completed by December 2015. In other words, “We’ve only got Trial software for you to use, but it’s broken and we don’t know why or how long it’s going to take to fix it”. In the meantime I therefore can’t submit my seriously simple accounts, so I can’t close down my company.

HMRC systems and support services are appalling. The Government has been pouring hundreds of Millions of pounds over many, many years to get their systems to this level of incompetence. Mind boggling isn’t it!

Gareth V Thomas says:
20 February 2016

Tried phoning HMRC gift aid assist. Wasn’t kept waiting. All I had was All our assistants are busy, Thank you. Goodbye. and then I was cut off. Ended up sending an old fashioned letter to the Bootle office approximately one month ago. Still awaiting reply

Peter says:
20 February 2016

Maybe you should run this on HMRC’s ability to respond to letters as well. I wrote on 9 November 2015 complaining of an error in my tax calculation, and despite another reminder letter in the interim they have still not responded. This is not just an insignificant detail, because it also affects my tax code for the coming year.

David Hunt says:
22 February 2016

Just made a call to 0330 number obtained from HMRC website. Whole call including waiting time and response was about 3 minutes. That is considerably better than 10 minutes about 4 weeks ago.

susan levinge says:
22 February 2016

i received a self assessment reminder, saying I still owed money, which arrived well after date on letter.
i rang the number under “If you are unable to pay on time”, got through within a few minutes to very helpful person, paid the balance on the phone there and then. Good service on this number 0300 200 3822.

on the other hand when try to post this comment get a message on screen saying. You are trying to post comments too quickly. Meaning??????

Hi Susan, welcome to Convo. That’s good to hear that you’ve had good service on one of the helpline numbers.

To, sort of, answer your question, this may have been triggered by our spam filter system. The system detects unusual patterns in posting – such as posting too quickly. However, this shouldn’t affect a normal post so we’ll take a look into it. Thanks for reporting 🙂

Shaun Knott says:
22 February 2016

Had to contact HMRC a few times (four times) to sort a tax problem. Least time I waited for an answer was 40minutes, that was after being cut-off a number of times. Today was 47minutes (I time all calls to them) and told I had the wrong number and it would be better if I rang another number!!
I’m a NHS worker who is constantly told seven day working is what’s expected of me. Why is it a pivotal organisation such as HMRC uses normal opening times Monday to Thursday closes at 16:30 on a Friday night with all these extended waiting times for calls to be answered there is no mechanism to contact them after what is perceived ‘normal working hours’. My boss gets a little hot under the collar waiting for me to contact/finish with HMRC but it’s the only times they can be contacted.

There is one way to reduce call waiting times- simply put a message in the system which states , after a single ring, ” Your call has failed to connect. Please try again later.” That is what I found on each of my 9 attempts to contact HMRC today! I assume that someone will be in receipt of a hefty bonus for bringing down call waiting times to less than 5 seconds by such an ingenious method. The call was answered – just not by a person or in a way that was in any way useful

Carol Thompson says:
25 February 2016

Your tip for getting through to self-assessment enquiries online (page 8 March 2016 Which?) did not work for me when I tried following your instructions yesterday. Please check the exact procedure and advise. (Have hmrc already changed the procedure because you let the cat out of the bag?)

Paul Boswell says:
27 February 2016

Clearly rude on phone though overtly polite due to phone conversations being recorded. I hit a total brick wall with a query for an incorrect change to my tax code. Anyone with an iota of commonsense could see that it was wrong but all they could do was blame DWP for providing them with incorrect information – and all DWP had done was to tell them I had started receiving state pension. HMRC ‘estimated’ that I had received £6530 whereas the actual figure was £628. Uninterested, nothing we can do, more than my jobs worth attitude.
Will need to wait until end of tax year to get my money back – eventually…

Les says:
3 March 2016

They are a pathetic thieving bunch of t***s who are allowed by the govt to bend the law to suit their own ends. They have no intention of ever dealing with you in a fair and reasonable way, and the biggest joke of all is that they call you a ‘customer’ as though you have a choice.

In the real world they would be bust in 5 minutes – if only.

I am an accountant working free on a friend’s PAYE. I had a problem with a payment demanded but not due and also online access. I got through to the collections people fairly quickly and got a partial answer from efficient and polite staff. They then transferred me to the general enquiries. This took just over 40 minutes of excruciating “muzak”. The person who eventually answered was pleasant but could not wholly solve the problem. He wanted to transfer me to someone else. I declined his kind offer and the problem remains unresolved although of low importance. Any of us treating a customer or client like this would soon have very few to bother us.

I’m trying to get hold of a form, in order to claim back the tax paid over my pension contributions from my income that is over the 20% threshold – My pension provider claims back only for the first 20%. The HMRC website says I need to contact them by phone for this (the ‘P800’ information page partly seems to relate to my intended refund request). I have tried several times to get through ringing the main number, to no avail. First time: waiting time >28 min then I gave up and hung up. Second time round, after navigating my way to the automated nightmare of an options system, I was on hold for 10 minutes, then suddenly kicked out – the line went to an ‘engaged’ tone. If only I could email my request or get someone to call me back. Please help!

So I take it the latest wheeze from the HMRC is to go through 5 minutes of spiel which could be done in 2 seconds by a real person THEN CUT YOU OFF BECAUSE NO OPERATORS AVAILABLE!!!!!!! I presume this is so these that would have had to wait don’t appear in the stats… so they appear to be claen. Lets be honest 16:30 on Friday afternoon is hardly likely to be the business time of the year… so why am I being abused by them just hanging up on me time after time!!!

Why do I nead to speak to them.. my tax code they have just sent is incorrect – why.. no idea… says there is back tax owing .. my account is £40 in credit! my personal allowance reduced by £2500 why.. and to add insult these figures received today don’t even match the numbers online……



Susan says:
19 March 2016

It really is ridiculous the length of time we have wait while making telephone calls. I can often have a long conversation with someone while waiting. They say they are sorry for keeping us waiting. What rubbish!

January 2016 I needed to call HMRC to file a NIL return (Constuction Industry) because they had not sent any paperwork and I was leaving the country for 6 weeks. On no occasion was I able to get through to actually speak to someone. Neither the time / inclination to hang on longer than 30 minutes per call made and more than 6 attempts made each day over a two day period. Upshot when I returned home I have £100:00 fine slapped on me for not owing them any money because I couldn’t get through to tell them I didn’t owe them any money!! Tried to appeal this in March 2016 but guess what no improvement to their phone lines and so a recorded delivery letter sent instead as now I had some paperwork to file with them!

CS says:
19 July 2016

You had since April 2015 to file nil return, why wait til last minute then blame them? It’s folk like yourself calling LAST MINUTE that jams the lines :-/

There’s an awful lot of comments posted regarding dissatisfaction experienced from dealing with HMRC. The problems are clearly evident to all bar the Senior Civil Servants and the government. Give this one a thought. What do you think it is like working for HMRC knowing that the organisation is a shambles, is not fit for purpose, every day is just as bad as the one before and you’re just waiting for the next complaint – and there’s nothing you can do about it? HMRC confuses flexibility with efficiency. It thinks by giving minimal training its staff can switch roles at the drop of a hat – stressful to staff, poor quality and more mistakes – Jack of all trades, master of none. In an open market it would be out of business in no time, but don’t blame the minions.

Anne Rooney says:
21 June 2016

I have been fighting a demand from Tax Credits for 6 years. My employer NHS rebanded me wrongly during an Agenda for Change, I was a band above what I should have been, so I was being paid more than I should have been. I was underestimating my wages on filling out the Tax Credit forms. When it was discovered I paid the money back at £50 a month quite a hardship, but Tax Credits cannot get it through their heads that I have paid back the money to the NHS and I should not owe them anything .

CS says:
19 July 2016

To be honest I actually worked on the helplines for self assessment, in the few days to the run up of 31st Jan there was a long waiting time. But say a week or so before and going way back you would generally get through in about 10 mins max. If you called early morning or 4pm onwards it was even quicker. Sometimes we were actually waiting on calls. To be fair you can file self assessment from April the previous year. If you decide to leave it til last minute then that’s your problem along with everyone else that leaves is last minute with no excuse. You get 10 months to do it so why wait until the end of January. Learn a lesson and do it earlier, would save your time and energy than sitting in a que for ages! Not wanting any arguments about this but come on, you have 10 months to do it. If your wise start getting your stuff together for next years deadline. Is taxpayers have already paid our tax for 2015-16, so you do it too!

I sent them a large cheque to cover my gap years, over 10 days ago ! As yet I’m still waiting for them to take the money from my account, was sent by recorded delivery!

Davey Jones says:
29 September 2016

It is so incredibly infuriating! It is such a waste of my time to go through an automated phone service, jumping through stupid hoops talking to a computer to be told at the end that “due to unforeseen demand” all our agents are busy, so “please call back”. I’m legally required to sort this out but whenever I try to I cannot get through – how is that at all reasonable? It’s like something out of Orwell. And please spare me the “due to unforeseen demand” – it hardly takes the Oracle of Delphi to foresee that considering that it happens every single time I call