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5 Sep 2013 05:32pm

HMRC customer services still struggling

The amount of postal queries handled on time by HMRC is down this quarter, while the average telephone waiting time has gone up

The Revenue’s quarterly performance statistics revealed that the average time waiting in a queue, which had been falling, rose again in the quarter ended June to around 6.5 minutes.

In addition, 70.3% of post received by HMRC has been cleared within 15 working days, according to the figures published by HMRC. This is down from 77.4% for the same quarter last year and 85% for the quarter to March 2013.

There were, however, signs of improvement for HMRC’s often-criticised customer service. Call attempts that got through to HMRC contact centre staff were up to 77.6% from 67.1% in the same period last year.

There was also an increase in the number of transactions carried out online, up to 93.1% compared to 90.1% for the quarter ended 30 June 2012, suiting HMRC’s overall aim of moving its operations online.

In March, HMRC has faced a barrage of criticism in a report from the Public Accounts Committee, including the charge that its new phone targets are “woefully inadequate”.

The Revenue, which had set an aim of answering 80% of calls within five minutes, was accused of being “unambitious” by the spending watchdog.

According to the PAC, the tax authority received 79 million calls in 2011/12, with 20 million calls never answered at all. If the new targets are met, it would still mean an estimated 16 million callers waiting longer than five minutes to speak to an advisor. A third of letters sent in the year were not given a response within a 15-day target.

In addition, HMRC was recently given the ignominious title of “most annoying” customer telephone service in the UK. With most frustrated by the 400 menu items on offer across just six telephone services.

Thousands of HMRC staff staged walkouts last month over cuts and the closure of tax advice centres, as the Revenue attempts to migrate more of its service online. HMRC plans to close of all of its 281 enquiry centres by 2014 putting 1,300 jobs at risk.

Raymond Doherty

 

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