Now Playing

Now Playing IconNow Playing:

Evolve Radio

Artist Name

Album Art

HMRC closing tax helpline for half the year – what you need to know

HMRC will close its self-assessment helpline line for almost six months every year, forcing customers to use its online services instead.

Taxpayers will be unable to call the tax office from 8 April to 30 September, HMRC has confirmed, meaning people who would previously have spoken to an adviser about their enquiries will now have to self-serve online.

The phoneline will close during the same period every year, it added.

HMRC said it was taking the step because “around two-thirds of calls” to its helpline were “routine or simple enquiries, which can be resolved online using our digital services, tools and guidance”.

It said previous trials where it closed the self-assessment line enabled it to help more customers and did not impact on taxpayers’ ability to file or pay on time.

The announcement comes weeks after Parliament’s cross-party spending watchdog said HMRC’s customer services had hit an “all-time low”.

So how will your enquiries be dealt with from now on, is there any way to still get through to someone over the phone and will a special helpline for MPs be affected?

More on Finance

Here’s what you need to know.

What will happen from 8 April when you have an HMRC query?

Where you would previously have been able to speak to someone in the HMRC’s self-assessment, PAYE and VAT services, you will now be directed to self-serve through HMRC’s online services.

The VAT helpline will still be open for five days each month ahead of the deadline for filing VAT returns – but outside of this time, you will have to use the online services.

Those who call the lines will hear a recorded message that’s tailored to their reason for calling, the HMRC says.

If you called from a mobile phone, you will be sent a text message taking you directly to the information you need, it adds, before your call is disconnected.

HMRC says customers will be provided with “clear information… so they know what to do and how to resolve their query online, and how to access extra support if they need it”.

It says its online guidance includes written guidance, recorded webinars, YouTube videos and a digital assistant, adding “these can answer most customer queries”.

Between October and March, the helpline will be open to deal with priority calls and customers with queries “that can be quickly and easily resolved” online will be directed to HMRC’s online services.

All other helplines will continue to operate as they do currently, HMRC says.

What ‘extra support’ is on offer and who gets it?

HMRC says it is allocating “additional resources” to its webchat and online services helpdesk (OSH).

The webchat will allow customers whose queries are not dealt with online to exchange messages with an adviser, while the OSH is for “customers who are unable to access online services or otherwise have health or personal reasons for needing extra support”.

This includes callers with a disability, mental health condition or personal circumstances that means they need specialist help.

HMRC says such customers should remain on the line when they call up for support, and they will be provided with the OSH contact number via a voice message once they have gone through the “query routing journey”.

You can read more about the specific protocols in place for disabled people, older people and other potentially impacted groups here.

Are there other exceptions?

No – but a helpline that can be used by MPs will remain unaffected, HMRC confirmed to Sky News, meaning civil servants’ calls will still be taken on it.

The line, operated by a specialist department known as Public Department 1 (PD1), allows MPs to deal with their personal tax queries.

An HMRC spokesperson said there were “no plans to restrict the PD1 helpline,” adding: “PD1 is a dedicated helpline for those who need a greater level of protection due to their identity or job. It has nothing to do with people’s wealth.

“PD1 records are handled separately, with only a small number of staff able to access them. We usually have seven people answering calls to this helpline.”

‘No evidence public is ready for monumental change’

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “HMRC have previously set out their plans to ensure that they are investing in their technology to ensure they’re reaching as many customers as possible.”

Asked if the Prime Minister thinks HMRC’s customer service record is good, he said: “Of course he thinks HMRC’s customer service record is good, but he recognises there’s always more to do and would recognise some of the challenges that HMRC have faced.”

Read more:
HMRC accused of ‘airbrushing’ Loan Charge scandal
Rishi Sunak ‘not interested in Westminster politics’

Harriett Baldwin, Treasury Select Committee chair, said: “It is a great shame that HMRC have decided now is the time to essentially close down any avenues for people to contact them over the phone for huge parts of the year.

“I say once again, these are well-meaning people just trying to get their taxes right.

“We’ve heard time and time again that every effort is being made to direct people to resolve issues online.

“The committee welcomes efforts to make the tax system more efficient but HMRC has not yet demonstrated that the department or the public are ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues.

“This should not be forced upon taxpayers until there is evidence that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC’s incredibly complex website.”

What HMRC says about it

Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive, said: “Online services have transformed our lives and often provide a better service for managing tax – they’re quicker, easier and always available.

“Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisers to focus support where it is most needed – helping those with complex tax queries and those who are vulnerable and need extra support.

“We must maximise every pound of taxpayers’ money. Embracing online self-service allows us to help more customers and improve our customer service levels without spending additional public money.”

Sky News Source