The Revenue is moving its corporate tax-related calls to two centres in Cardiff and Glasgow, rather than directing them through 14 local offices.
It has come under increasing pressure from professional bodies – including ICAEW and the Chartered Institute of Taxation – in recent years over its service quality, which has deteriorated as the department has had to cope with slashed budgets and massive redundancies. This latest move by HMRC is an attempt to increase efficiency in its phone operations.
David Heaton, partner in Baker Tilly and chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty, says the changes should “make it easier for us to get through,” but warned that it could take longer to speak to a person with the necessary technical knowledge. When it announced the changes HMRC said, “if your enquiry cannot be dealt with at this first point of contact, it will be referred to and dealt with by a dedicated operations team, who will contact you where necessary.”
Heaton called for HMRC to introduce agent priority lines (APL) so that you can “get through to someone with a bit more experience who will understand what you want.”
He told economia, “These work like a charm. When you call a contact centre now, if you get through, the person on the other end of the phone is not well trained and can only cope with the script on screen. If you call the APL, you will get through to someone with a bit more experience who will understand what you want.”
He added, “The single biggest issue that all of us have is getting through on the phone.”
Concerns have been expressed that there will be teething problems implementing the changes, which come into effect from 17 September. But HMRC has said that “longer call centre opening hours means our customers will have more flexibility around when they can contact us.
"The overall customer experience will improve with quicker response times and more consistent information.”
Statistics show that HMRC answered 48% of all call attempts in 2010/11 and 74% in 2011/12. Recent research among members of the ICAEW Tax Faculty reveals huge frustrations in dealing with HMRC by telephone, including waits of up to 20 minutes on the employer helpline, 30 minutes on the self-assessment helpline and 80 minutes on the employee helpline.
Last year Paul Aplin, chair of the ICAEW Tax Faculty’s technical committee, told the parliamentary TSC that HMRC’s standards were "simply not acceptable".
Earlier this month chief executive Lin Homer said HMRC will spend an additional £9m this year and up to £25m next year to ensure that the department meets a target of answering 90% of all calls by the end of March 2013.
The change-over dates for each corporate tax office are available here