HMRC regularly takes the pulse of opinion within its own staff. The recent results of the winter survey (of over 20,000 HMRC staff) shows some very disturbing statistics. Not only are the absolute results poor but the trends are worrying.
The impression is of an organisation that has not yet fully recovered from a forced marriage of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, which in turn came on the back of many other tasks being sent its way, all spiced with endless change being forced though by the political masters – yet having to do all this with fewer and fewer staff. Not a good recipe for improving customer service.
What HMRC staff think
LITRG wants to see a highly motivated and content HMRC workforce which is committed to producing excellent customer service, particularly for the benefit of their low-income customers.
- Only 15% think that senior management provide effective leadership
- 10% think that change is managed well in HMRC
- More staff are dissatisfied with their jobs than satisfied
- Only 18% think HMRC is committed to training and development
- More people are not proud of the department than those who are
- 59% would not recommend HMRC as a good place to work
- 72% think things have got worse in the last year
- Only 12% think things will improve in the next year
These are not the sort of statistics that HMRC needs as it starts what will undoubtedly be a difficult year ahead.
- 68% believe that they put customers at the heart of what they do
This is a creditable score in many ways. It is clear from the survey that there is a committed workforce, but they are frustrated at not being able to serve their customers as they would like:
- Only 15% think the integration of the Revenue and Customs has been good for customers
- Only 21% believe that customer service is improving
- Only 36% believe that management are committed to improving quality
- Only 12% feel involved in the strategy to put customers at the heart of the business
Why is this happening?
It seems the current malaise has been a cumulative process. HMRC has been buffeted by constant change, not least by circumstances outside their control with incessant tinkering with the tax system.
The old Inland Revenue was in the “good old days” an organisation which knew what its mission was. It was to collect the tax that the nation owed. It was distributed nationwide in the local office structures. People knew their patch and their “customers”. Responsibility was delegated down through this regional structure.
It had its problems, but its reputation was as being one of the best run government departments. Those dealing with it felt that if something went wrong you knew who to talk to in order to get things put right.
Perhaps having that reputation began the decline. Government perhaps thought things might be done well if they were transferred to the Revenue. So we had transfers of “new” businesses across to them. Whilst there was some logic in the first of these, that logic seemed to diminish steadily:
- National insurance contribution administration
- Collection of student loans
- Child benefit
- Tax credits
- Child trust fund administration
- Policing the national minimum wage
The Revenue always had problems of operating in silos due to the specialised nature of individual taxes which then had to be married to a regional structure. So when the new activities came along, there was an inevitable tendency to form new and sometimes even bigger silos.
Some of these new silos brought new problems (particularly, tax credits) and before the respective cultures and practices could be unified across the old Revenue, the government decided that Customs & Excise should be added to the mix.
The final straw?
There was a good logic for the merger for the business customer (large and small) side of the new HMRC.
For the individual customer the biggest problem was the timing. The pre merger Revenue had not really got to grips with integrating the inherited “new” services before yet another massive cultural shock and organisation restructuring had to be dealt with. At senior levels, the merger structure was to be achieved by mixing up people from the merging entities, creating steep learning curves. At the front line, the merger might have been effective were it not for a requirement for massive and demotivating job losses.
And then there was no moratorium on changes to the tax system - many low income customers are currently trying to sort out what this loss of the 10% income tax band means whilst there is the interesting prospect of millions of resident foreigners asking for help with the non-domiciled changes.
Put job losses on hold?
There must now be a question of whether job losses and poor morale will get in the way of HMRC achieving its strategic objectives. HMRC has a key role in the government’s child poverty reduction aspirations and is committed in its Five Year Ambition to delivering a more customer focused organisation.
Achieving this Ambition is going to rely upon computer systems replacing people. More than likely those people are ones with experience. Meanwhile more and more customers are expected to self-serve.
Those on low incomes are HMRC’s most numerous customers and can least cope with self-service. Further errors and deteriorating service impact most severely.
People on low incomes need personal service if they are to cope with increasing complexity. We would like to see a moratorium on job losses, until such time as HMRC can prove that its computer systems are sufficiently reliable, flexible and capable of producing comprehensible information for its low income customers.
Contact: John Whiting (Tel: 0844 579 6700, Fax: 0844 579 6701)