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Who keeps you on hold for more than an hour?

Landline phone

So the polling’s over and the results are in. Your feedback on HMRC’s response time to telephone enquiries suggest you’ve been on hold for longer than you’d like. What other firms keep you waiting?

It doesn’t look good, with 30% of you (1,166 people) reporting a wait of 46-60 minutes and 28% (1,087) left hanging on for over an hour! Only 1% said they got through in less than five minutes.

On hold to HMRC

DaveW was on hold for an hour and a half:

‘I’m still listening to the “thanks for waiting – one of our advisors will be with you as soon as possible” message 61 minutes after first hearing it! The tune is driving me mad! Do I hang up after wasting over an hour of my life? Or do I wait for them to cut me off? I’m paying for this call – should I cut my losses? They’re still thanking me for waiting though!

‘After 68 minutes 30 seconds – I hear a human voice! Nice man very pleasant (but he couldn’t help) so he passes me on to a Customer Service Advisor – NO – WAIT – too late – on hold again… After 1 hour 33minutes and 15 seconds I speak with ‘John’ – nothing to worry about – the fault is at their end! Oh happy days.’

Mikey, who was on hold for 58 minutes, was very pleased with the service he received when he did get through:

‘Was so worth it in the end. They were super-fast and knowledgeable. Must have been on the phone about two minutes and I was sorted. It’ll take some time to fully forgive them for the wait. But I’ll heal: we all will heal.’

HMRC assure us it is taking steps to improve:

‘We have just completed the recruitment and training of 3,000 staff who will answer calls and letters. We’re also trialling a web-chat service so that simple queries can be answered by contacting an adviser online.’

Who else keeps you on hold?

Let’s hope things get better soon, but are HMRC alone? Do other public organisations keep you waiting for ages, or are there refreshing examples which show it doesn’t have to take forever to get through? How do banks, retailers and broadband providers compare with government bodies? Who stands out for good service and who deserves a wooden spoon?

Is making a phone call the best way to get in touch anyway? Would you rather send an email or use web-chat? Malcolm R suggests a call back option would be more productive:

‘Some well organised outfits allow you to leave your number and then call you back when they have an “advisor” free, instead of leaving you hanging on. Why can’t HMRC organise something like this for their “customers”.’

Given that we seem fated to spend so long ‘on hold’, is there any way of making the experience less dismal? Do you like snatches of classical music or does Barry White make the minutes fly by? Is it less annoying to be told that ‘your call matters to us’ or that ‘you’re number six in the queue’? Of course, you can always entertain yourself by commenting here on Which? Convo.


Callbacks are useful if they are optional. If I’m with a client and we need to talk to HMRC together it’s much better for me to remain on the line, as the office phone system is byzantine and there’s no way for someone to ring me back directly.


Inclusive calls from landlines to 01, 02 and 03 numbers are for the first 60 minutes of the call.

Hang up before that otherwise you begin to be charged a per-minute rate for the rest of the call.


There is not much we can do with inefficient companies other than voting with our feet but with HMRC and other organisations which we have no choice but to deal with, urgent action is needed.

Let us hope that the second attempt by Which? produces a result, otherwise we will have to push the government for action.


With further staff reductions predicted, it’s going to get worse not better. We need a lead from responsible and powerful institutions such as the accountancy bodies, Taxpayers Alliance and “Which?” on how to develop coping mechanisms to conduct the business we all have to with dysfunctional bureaucracy .

One stratagem is a “signed for” letter stating the impossibility of getting through on the phone describing the default action you have taken and asking for guidance on whether any further or alternative action is needed. One doesn’t expect a reply but producing a copy of the letter when some future fine or penalty is imposed is surely an excellent defence. Sad that it comes down to playing mind-games such as this, but perhaps necessary.


My latest experience of awfulness is IKEA online. Following a botched delivery I’ve had to make about 6 hour long phone calls to their awful customer services (I now hate ABBA) over a period of 2 weeks and each call has had to go back to the start of the problem and each time they spectacularly fail to understand the issue (or keep track of it). Have no ended up dealing with their Facebook page and have an email address.

After 2 weeks chasing they now expect me to stay in on a Sunday all day so they can collect the order and then will refund me weeks after that. Overall they will have taken over a month to even get close to resolving their mistake.

I will be avoiding them from now on. Cheap furniture isn’t worth the incompetent customer service.

Gordon says:
4 September 2015

I had 52 minutes on hold to HMRC last week. Again the representative was helpful and friendly when I got through, but the extent of the short staffing is CRAZY.

I’m glad to hear most staff or incoming and new avenues are being tested. Recognising you have a problem is the first step to fixing it…

Peter says:
5 September 2015

Many large companies do not seem to publish email addresses on which they can respond to normal queries – so it isn’t currently an option. Several times I have had to dig through fine print at the end of a web page to find any email address at all – when wanting to complain.
(Google goes the other way – their policy is not to have telephones.)


The worst organisation in my experience is the NHS. Specifically Leicester General Hospital. You’re in queue waiting to be answered for at least 30 minutes and then, when they do pick the phone up, they simply drop it on the desk and you can hear them talking in the office to each other until they put the receiver back and cut you off!

John Bennett says:
5 September 2015

The answer is simple. Take on more staff to do the job. Manufacturers cannot produce without staff. Service industries should do the same. Sadly “service is a dirty word these days”