"Lack of Contact" Centres

Published on 17 October 2005

It is one part of HMRC's long-term strategy to direct its customers primarily to the telephone for help or guidance. Contact Centres are the places where people are directed for that telephone assistance. The problems with the tax credit telephone helpline are now legendary. However increasing numbers of "ordinary taxpayers" have been reporting that they cannot get through to the tax office. We decided to investigate.

During September we established a programme of ringing 5 major Contact Centres mid-morning and mid-afternoon. These were Bristol & N Somerset, Central Yorkshire, Centre 1, Chapel Wharf and West Yorkshire.

We rang 91 times but only managed to reach an answering service on 8 occasions. Out of those 8 times, once we were cut off and twice we got a message that the office was shut, despite the calls being between opening hours.

With the remaining five calls we got through to a human being directly on two occasions and an intermediate answering machine on the other three occasions. The average time to speak to a human was four minutes.

So success in only 5% of cases, if waiting for four minutes can be described as a success.

It is not as if, when you are waiting on the phone to get that advice that your call is free. HMRC, unlike some other government departments, do not operate a freephone for help. However, if you want to tip off HMRC that your neighbour is fiddling his taxes you may ring them for free.

Combine this with HMRC's cutting back on leaflets and booklets (to save money) and the prospect of HMRC refusing to allow you to drop into your local tax office unannounced, leaves us with the clear picture of a service hitting rock-bottom, unless of course you can afford to pay someone to look after your tax affairs.

(17-10-2005)

Contact Name: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)