The Revenue's complaints procedure? Not much cop

Published on 14 January 2004

HMRC’s latest revision of their Code of Practice (COP) on complaints fails to address the needs of the unrepresented taxpayer or tax credit claimant says LITRG. In June the Revenue published the revised version of COP1, or 'Putting things right. How to complain'. Of seven recommendations, which LITRG made when Code was published in November 2001, the Revenue have adopted just three. There is still a long way to go and the Code is still likely to deter genuine complainants.

Most surprisingly in current circumstances, the Code does not make the processes clear for those who want to pursue a complaint or disagreement about tax credits.

John Andrews, Chairman of LITRG, commented:

'We want to see a complaints service which is geared to the customer and not to the complex internal structures of the Inland Revenue. It is important for someone who feels badly treated not to feel intimidated or frustrated by the process of complaining.'

Details

Back in 2001, LITRG said that they would like to see a less intimidating process where the contact points are clearer and the barriers to complaining are reduced. We therefore recommended that:

  • the procedures should be simplified by having, at stage one, an identified Customer Service Manager responsible for complaints in each office;
  • at stage two, those who wish to take their complaint further should contact a single Complaints Helpline (where someone could get through to a human being, not to an automated process);
  • clear service standards should be set out so that customers know what to expect;
  • complaints should be accepted if made by e-mail;
  • the circumstances in which the Revenue will forgo tax when they have made mistakes should be explicitly stated;
  • the plethora of leaflets covering Revenue standards, procedures for complaining and general policies should be rationalised, simplified and made consistent;
  • the inconsistent services provided for those with disabilities should be improved. In particular, they should be able to complain to a single helpline with no multiple choice questions, just a helpful, knowledgeable individual who can cut through the Revenue's informal structures to find the right person.

The good news is that the new COP1: 
  • invites the customer to complain first to a Customer Relations or Complaints Manager in the local office;
  • introduces more cases in which the Revenue will forgo tax if they have made mistakes (but not stating their position on tax credits);
  • suggests to customers that they should write 'Complaint' at the top of their letters (which lessens the chance that the Revenue might not recognise a complaint when they see one).

The bad news is that the Code still, at the second stage of the process, requires the customer to write to a nameless 'Director', and to guess which of a list of 21 'Directors' they should write to or telephone.

It also proudly boasts that the Revenue have a full range of services for people with disabilities, but then goes on to show that none of the Directors have a facility for dealing with anyone with a hearing impairment.

And how can it be that a Department which claims to be in the vanguard of the Government's drive for e-enabling cannot organise a complaint process by e-mail? If the Adjudicator, the Ombudsman and Customs & Excise can do it, then why not the Revenue?

This information has been provided for you by the LITRG on 29 July 2003. Please address any queries to Robin Williamson on tel 0844 579 6700; fax 0844 579 6701.

(14-01-2004)