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Do HMRC want to talk to me?
The above heading is a valid question after our 91 attempts to speak to an HMRC helpline on which we reported two months ago. Not a happy experience. We decided to follow up this investigation by finding how easy it was to find a telephone number to contact the "tax man" in order to pay him a visit.
We fixed on London as a location for this exercise, so a good test for the HMRC communication and customer care strategy.
Telephone treasure hunt
Firstly we rang BT Directory Enquiries, "HMRC in London please"........ Not known.
"How about Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs?" Ah, it looks as if they have changed their name to Inland Revenue. We have a Somerset House, a Stamp Office and an Edinburgh Helpline....... "That's all for a city of 7.5 million inhabitants? And why Edinburgh?"............ Can't help you there.
Next stop the Phone Book (BT version). Latest editions seem to reflect the Directory Enquiries experience (and on-line Directory Enquiries does not even give you the Somerset House option).
Yellow Pages is just out and new, so this will surely help?....... No entry for HMRC.
So we look up Inland Revenue, it says........... go to Government Offices.
We look up Government Offices it says....... go to Inland Revenue.
We are beginning to appreciate the strategy for reducing the number of people worrying the new HMRC.
The Public Library
Pensioners like to have face to face contact, so we go to a public library and find an HMRC leaflet for Pensioners (IR121) issued after the new HMRC came into existence, so this will tell us. "Where can I go for help" it says; at last, the way forward.
One problem; it says look in your telephone book under Inland Revenue.
But the library also has on-line access to the HMRC website. This will solve it. Sure enough Contact Us shows for London four locations, Strand, Waterloo, Euston and Hornsey. Four offices for 7.5 million people? Never mind, let's see how do we contact them by phone? No phone numbers given, nor hours of opening. This is customer service?
This would be humorous, if it were not so serious.
The need for face to face contact
The ability to see someone face to face is an essential requirement as the complexity of the law escalates for those on the lowest incomes. It is essential for someone with tax credits problems or for a pensioner with multiple sources of income to see someone face to face.
When we reported on our telephone survey the formal (and surprising) HMRC response was that they were very busy in September and we must have caught them on a bad month. The taxpayers and tax credit applicants were also busy; they were trying to get help, without success.
We have heard constant rumours that the very few remaining HMRC Enquiry Centres that are left are going to move to an appointment only system. You would have to contact them by telephone in advance. Can you see the problem?
The Parliamentary reassurance
Three weeks ago in Parliament the Paymaster General said in relation to the services from Enquiry Centres over the last five years:
"No changes have been made in that period to the services provided in inquiry centres other than to extend those services to new products (such as tax credits)."
Technically accurate perhaps, but then just try and find their telephone number.
In the last few days HMRC have proudly announced the closure of another two offices at Windsor and New Malden using words that show some ingenuity:
"in its drive to deliver a more effective service to local businesses and individuals, eliminate duplication and improve efficiency, [HMRC] is closing its facilities"
We think we understand what the PMG meant. If you manage to find an Enquiry Office that we haven't closed, it will still provide the same services, albeit you will have to telephone for an appointment, but we are not telling you the telephone number for you to do that. Even if you did telephone, we probably won't answer.
We can now see why HMRC have not yet published its customer service targets for the current year.
Contact: John Andrews (Tel: 0844 579 6700 Fax 0844 579 6701)