A critical report from the National Audit Office has said that a massive 20 million calls did not get through in 2011/12.
Throughout the year, HMRC answered 74% of phone calls, against an interim target of 58%. The NAO recognizes that the Revenue has “restored customer service levels from a low point in 2010”, but criticises the level of service as “nevertheless low.”
The spending watchdog notes that callers had to wait an average of 282 seconds to speak to an advisor on the phone in 2011-12 who got through to HMRC in the last year, and between April and September, 6.5m waited more than ten minutes to have their calls answered.
The NAO notes that calls are charged from when they are connected – even if they are waiting in a queue – and estimates £33m in call charges were racked up throughout the last year.
The estimated value of callers’ time while in the queue is also estimated to be £103m.
In August HMRC announced that it would be employing an extra 2,500 temporary staff and enhancing phone technology to improve productivity.
It also follows a series of attempts to improve the phone systems and call centre set-up for the Revenue, which receives more than 60m calls per year. HMRC is also investigating alternatives to its 0845 numbers, which result in high call charges.
The problems are still not solved, warns the NAO, which found that standards so far in 2012-13 were “varied.” In October 2012 however, HMRC answered 91% of phone calls; its highest monthly performance since December 2009.
Overall though, it estimates that HMRC’s plans to achieve future targets are “ambitious.” The NAO says that although by the end of 2013 and throughout the 2013/14 year, HMRC could meet its target of answering 90% of calls, but due to impending staff cuts, it will need to move staff from other back-office jobs to answer the telephones.
The NAO also sounds a note of caution about the “uncertainty about the impact on all call volumes of large-scale changes, such as the introduction of Real Time Information and the transition to universal credit.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said, "The taxpayers and claimants who phone HMRC do not have a choice about whether they interact with the department. Despite some welcome improvements, HMRC has acknowledged that its performance in providing services to the public has been unacceptable.
"HMRC faces difficult decisions about whether it should aspire to meet the service performance standards of a commercial organisation. It could do only by spending significantly more money or becoming substantially more cost effective."
The full report can be downloaded from the HMRC site.