In our second report on pensioners back in 1999 we reproduced a letter from a senior Revenue official responding to our recommendations for better services for older, low income people.
It is worth quoting a few sentences from that letter to us:
“I said that we were continually looking for ways in which we could help make the system simpler, not just for older people but for everyone”
“I explained that improving our customer service was a major concern for us which has been given added impetus by the strategy outlined in the recent Modernising Government White Paper.”
“a key aim was to raise our customer service standards across the board”
“Older people should, of course, see the benefit of general improvements which we are able to make”.
“We shall aim to take into account the results of the work you have done as we develop our customer service strategy in the future”.
The NAO report suggests that nine years on similar commitments are needed – or, to put it another way, we are no further forward. Customer service standards have dropped even further and HMRC no longer publish their targets – they have not done so since 2002 when, coincidentally, tax credits were introduced.
HMRC have in the meantime moved from being a “customer-service organisation” through strategic change to being an “enabling organisation” and now through transformation to being “customer-focused”.
The one common thread throughout is that if you are vulnerable, on a low income and want to experience these enhancements to service, then please wait patiently at the back of the ever-lengthening queue.
The NAO report
The NAO Report on HM Revenue & Customs’ transformation programme monitors the spend of £2.7 billion by HMRC, which is expected to bring benefits of £11.5 billion by 2010-11.
Most of those benefits accrue to the Treasury through HMRC collecting more tax. Little will accrue to those on low incomes hoping to receive back the tax they have overpaid to HMRC through inefficient collection mechanisms.
The vast bulk of the other benefits are expected to accrue to business. We do not object to business being targeted, but what we do object to is the lack of any priority or significant initiatives given to the student, the pensioner, the migrant or those with disabilities.
We would have added the tax credit claimant to that list. However, a transformation programme is already in hand to ameliorate the worst effects of the processes HMRC have brought in since tax credits were introduced. The jury is out as to whether this programme will produce a noticeable difference.
Before you transform
HMRC is an organisation that could do with a rest from major transformation. It needs to focus upon doing the simple things well and mend what is currently broken or old. One major thread of that work should be for those customers where it matters most; those who are totally dependent upon HMRC getting it right in the first place: the poorest and the vulnerable.
Contact: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)