Why do HMRC bother with service standards?

Published on 20 October 2005

Eighteen months ago we were critical of the Inland Revenue for not publishing their service standards when their codes of practice committed them to do so. Subsequent to our article partial standards were quickly published for 2004/05. Clearly with the new HMRC it is important to know what the new organisation is to be measured against, after all, we were told one of the reasons for its formation was to improve customer service.

No standards have been published since we chased last time. No-one seems to care. Perhaps it is because the standards are meaningless and not properly monitored?

Let us have a look at such skimpy information as we have been given with a comparison from not that long ago:

Responding to post

2000/01 
84% achieved within 15 days

2004/05
80% target within 15 days (no statement of how they did)

Attending to callers

2000/01
99% seen within 15 minutes

2004/05
85% target within 30 minutes (no statement of how they did)

Phone answered promptly

2000/01
96% answered within 30 seconds

2004/05
90% target within 20 seconds (no statement of how they did)

Getting things right first time

2000/01
Between 80% to 89% depending upon whether in Self Assessment or not

2004/05
There is still no public target published on the HMRC website, although in the latest National Audit Office Report it comments that HMRC's own internal auditors found "significant and widespread error".

And 2005/06?

We cannot say what HMRC are aiming for in the current tax year, as they have not told us and we could find no data in published documents. This contrasts starkly with HMRC's claims:

Like all Government organisations, we are committed to continually improving the quality of service we provide. We do this by stating clearly the levels of service you should be able to expect...........

.......and included in their Customer Service Commitment:

We publish our customer service aims and achievements annually.

We find it incredible that such a large Government department can "get away" with making commitments which they patently do not follow.

When individuals have professional tax advisers acting on their behalf it is unlikely that HMRC errors have any lasting effect. It is the poorest segment of the community where the errors remain permanent and where the suffering is material due to inefficiencies. In the NAO report published this month it was stated that:

...... taxpayers were not being advised of around £295 million per annum potentially repayable

If we multiply that over a number of years it is an enormous amount of money that no visible effort is being made to repay to the poorest segment of society.

We also know that HMRC wiped off many tax records in error in the last few years so the chances of being repaid amounts due in those cases are negligible. Once again it will be those who rely upon HMRC as their only source of information, those on low incomes, who will have lost out.

It is time for the new HMRC to invest in customer service for the most vulnerable and to publish data showing how effective they have been in delivering that enhanced service. The time for platitudes in Charters and Commitments is past.

(20-10-2005)

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