HMRC use many types of call numbers when they want you to ring them.
There are a range of 0800 numbers which you can use if you want to tip off HMRC that someone is committing fraud. These are clearly the calls that they want most. Other Government departments operate 0800 numbers for their most vulnerable customers, for example, the DWP’s Pension Credit application line.
The greatest number of Helpline numbers use the 0845 prefix, for example, the tax credits helpline is 0845 3003900. Throughout its leaflets, forms and website, HMRC usually claims that these numbers can be rung and “calls will be charged at local rates”.
Local rate calls from residential landlines, according to BT, cost between 1p and 4p per minute depending on the day you ring and the time of day. Most cost conscious callers will ring in the evenings or weekends when the cheaper tariff applies. For example, a call of an hour locally or nationally at the weekend may only cost 6p. We understand that the 0845 equivalent from a landline might be 3p a minute or £1.80.
Bearing in mind how HMRC are driving its customers into using the telephone for contact and requiring more and more information to be notified in this way one would hope that they were providing the very cheapest arrangements for their customers.
We have often been appalled by the number and length of calls people on the lowest incomes have to make to HMRC to get their tax credits or tax affairs sorted out.
Unfortunately 0845 numbers are nearly always more costly than local or national calls.
There are a number of problems with HMRC actions:
- The claim that calls will be charged at local rates is incorrect and the 0845 numbers used will turn out to be more expensive than local rates (they could easily be 10 times the cost).
- HMRC are not following the guidelines set by the Central Office for Information for Government Departments which regards using a description of “local rates” as misleading and recommends that actual costs should be clearly communicated.
- If you are a business you can ring a geographic number (ones starting 01 or 02) to contact your tax office. These geographic numbers are likely to be much cheaper than an 0845 number. If you are a low income individual you are generally forced to ring an 0845 number.
- 0845 numbers are generally inaccessible for anyone having to ring from outside the United Kingdom.
- 0845 numbers can be very expensive indeed from mobile or pay-phones. Many people on the lowest incomes have “pay as you go” mobile phones as the best way of budgeting.
What LITRG would like to see done
LITRG would like to see the following steps taken as early as possible:
- Where HMRC require or encourage the customer to contact them then they should put in place 0800 Freephone numbers (for example, notification of changes under the tax credit regime).
- They should negotiate tariffs for customers with their telephone suppliers for 0845 numbers which will never exceed the rate for a geographic number.
- Have a recorded message at the start of the telephone call saying that HMRC will always ring you back if you prefer (as part of the message which says that the call may be recorded for training purposes etc.).
- They should publish the rates, or at least the maximum rate, that customers will be charged.
- They should publish alternative geographic numbers to assist callers from overseas or who have adverse tariffs for 0845 calls (or publish geographic numbers from within the UK if they are not going to change their existing policy).
- They should remove misleading telephone information from their website and other publications.
In “Our service commitment to you” HMRC undertakes to “keep your costs to the minimum necessary”. Perhaps the telephone Helplines would be a good place to start?
Contact: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)