HMRC responds to NAO criticisms of customer service

01 June 2016

HMRC says they have fully recovered from the poor standard of customer service provided in early 2015 and are now offering their best service levels in years.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently published a report criticising HMRC for periods of poor customer service in 2015.

Responding to the report, Ruth Owen, HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services said:

“We recognise that early in 2015 we didn’t provide the standard of service that people are entitled to expect and we apologised at the time. We have since fully recovered and are now offering our best service levels in years.

Over the past six months we’ve consistently answered calls in an average of six minutes, and have launched new online tax accounts and webchat for everyone, enabling customers to manage their tax affairs wherever and whenever they want.

There’s never been a better or more convenient service for our customers.”

HMRC achieved improvements to customer service by:

  • recruiting more than 3,000 additional advisers who can work outside normal office hours when many customers choose to call HMRC
  • introducing more flexible working to deal with large fluctuations in customer demand throughout the year, underpinned by a new telephone system that enables HMRC to move calls around the country in response to demand
  • launching online services that enable customers to manage their tax affairs when and where they want, including by smartphone, with online support such as webchats. The new personal tax account already has more than 1.5 million users and the business tax account more than five million registered users.

In May and June 2015 HMRC’s average time to answer a call was 19/20 minutes. This dropped to eight minutes in November 2015 and HMRC has maintained between five and six minutes to date.

Announcements by the Chancellor in the 2016 Budget commit to improving customer service performance further, through:

  • introducing a seven-day service by April 2017, with extended hours and Sunday opening on main phone lines, as well as online support services like webchats ‎
  • recruiting more than 800 new staff into the customer services teams, to reduce call answering times and further increase the flexibility to respond to demand
  • a new secure email service – operated through customers’ online tax accounts – with a faster average response time than the current post handling target.


CIPP comment

The Policy Team ran a survey during March this year to find out if your experiences with HMRC contact centres had improved in the six months since our last survey back in September 2015.

Our initial survey in September aimed to gather data from payroll professionals about their experiences when using the HMRC contact centres. We did this following the announcement that HMRC had reported disappointing customer service performance results and were making extra investment to expand the numbers available to respond to calls. We ran a similar survey six months later to see whether the profession were able to report any noticeable difference to response times and service.

We received a range of comments and clearly the employer helpline has been much in demand and has resulted in a significant number of hours spent ‘hanging on the telephone’. It would appear, based on some of the commentary that response times, in some instances, might have improved slightly in recent months:

“Prior to January 2016, my average call time to either the employee helpline or the employer helpline was 43 minutes. Since then it has reduced dramatically - in February it reduced to less than 15 minutes.”

“I have rung the employer helpline twice during this period; my first call I was holding for 24 minutes, and my second call just two minutes.”

“The most recent occasion was yesterday when I had to wait 20 minutes. Previously occasions were around the 30-40 minute mark.”

We asked “Do you stay on the line until you are able to speak to someone, or do you disconnect the call after a period time?” and responses were largely similar to those in September with 65% staying on the line.

Helen Hargreaves, the CIPP’s Associate Director of Policy & Research said:

“Whilst our research does not show the dramatic increase in performance suggested by HMRC, it is clear that HMRC’s response times have improved in recent months. However, there is definitely room for further improvement and we will be conducting further research in 12 months to establish the impact on performance of the investment announced by the Chancellor in Budget 2016.”