HMRC’s performace in 2016-17 improved but concerns remain
22 January 2018
The Public Accounts Committee has conveyed their concern about the impacts on the ordinary taxpayer from the growing challenges facing HMRC.
The Committee of Public Accounts is appointed by the House of Commons to examine “the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the committee may think fit.”
The committee recently published their report on HMRC’s performance in 2016-17 and although they recognised the improvements in customer service since the unacceptable levels of 2015−16, they are concerned about HMRC’s ability to maintain this level of performance. HMRC transformation plans include 15 major programmes, including closing its national network of offices and relocating to 13 large regional centres, introducing new digital services for individuals and businesses, and updating major systems such as the Customs Declaration Service.
In 2016−17, HMRC improved its customer service by handling 92% of calls, compared to 72% in 2015−16.
According to the report the average time it takes for customers to speak to an adviser when they call is longer than HMRC claims as the measure does not include the time customers are in HMRC’s automated telephony system before entering the queue.
The average speed to answer calls, from when a caller enters a queue to speak to an adviser, is one of HMRC’s key telephony performance measures. HMRC improved its average speed to answer calls from approximately 12 minutes in 2015−16 to under 4 minutes in 2016–17.
HMRC’s target, which it has the necessary funds to meet, is for its customers to spend not more than 5 minutes waiting to speak to an adviser. HMRC considers 5 minutes a reasonable average speed to answer, and says that typically customers spend an additional two to four minutes listening to automated messages before entering a queue for an adviser, so the total time spent waiting could often be more like nine minutes.
Some of HMRC’s other performance measures also provide a misleading picture of the reality of customers’ experiences. For example, HMRC counts most calls terminated in its automated telephony system as successfully handled. In many cases, though, the customer simply hangs up because they are having difficulty navigating through the automated message system and are frustrated by how long this is taking.
One of the recommendations made by the Committee is that, “HMRC should introduce a new set of measures that better reflect the actual experience of customers and that automated telephony time should be included within the 5 minute speed to answer target.”
The Committee also recommended that HMRC should:
- Obtain the information from the ‘Paradise Papers’ as soon as possible, and report back to the Committee by March 2018 to set out its response, including any additional revenue likely to be at stake.
- Set target levels for reduction of the tax gap, including for the SME sector, and set out how HMRC will be more responsive to emerging risks.
- Update its original assumptions and amend its forecasts for its transformation programme, particularly those concerning customer demand for its various services; and set out the financial implications of this for the Committee by April 2018.
- (with the Government Property Unit) use their strong negotiating position to ensure they gain sufficient flexibility in the terms for the four regional centre leases yet to be signed, and should examine ways to build in greater flexibility from the eight regional centre leases already signed.
- Ensure it continues to deliver a consistent and reasonable level of service to all its customers (the Committee will be monitoring performance and will return to this issue).
- Report back by March 2018 to explain how it will take care of the interests of vulnerable people receiving Tax Credits. This should include how it will work with DWP to manage claimants’ transition to Universal Credit, and protect them against aggressive departmental activity to reclaim overpayments due to error and fraud.
- Set out its strategy for tackling Tax Credits error and fraud, given the additional risks posed by transfer to Universal Credit, including a cost-benefit analysis of its approach.