HMRC keep telephone callers waiting 30 minutes

Published on 11 April 2012

Over recent years HMRC have consistently failed to answer their telephone helplines in anything like a reasonable time-scale. Back in 1997/98 the Inland Revenue aimed to answer a telephone call within 30 seconds 91% of the time. But now, in 2012/13, you can spend four times as much time pushing buttons before you even get in a queue. The subsequent wait can be excessively costly for the caller on a low income.

Meanwhile LITRG has campaigned to get HMRC to improve their telephone service. We do this for three reasons.

  1. People are obliged to telephone HMRC to report important events. If they do not, then they can suffer quite severe penalties.
  2. The cost to the individual on a Pay As You Go (PAYG) mobile telephone can be as much as 40p a minute to most HMRC lines on an 0845 number.
  3. The reputational risk to HMRC is very high if they cannot be seen to do even the simplest customer service things well.

Just over a year ago our hopes were raised when the current Chairman of HMRC said to the Treasury Sub-Committee that he expected to see a “period of steady improvement” in HMRC’s performance in answering the telephone. No doubt HMRC can produce statistics to show that people are getting through more often than they did, or are being cut off less often. But this does not take into account the length of time people have to wait to get a response.

Our mystery shopping

On Tuesday 10 April 2012, we made three calls to HMRC helplines using the routes taken by an ordinary PAYE caller, a pensioner and a tax credit claimant. On average the wait was 29 minutes. On a PAYG mobile that could have cost £11.60 per call, which could equate to half a day’s income for a pensioner.

No doubt, HMRC will claim that there was pent-up demand over Easter. But a customer-centric organisation (as HMRC claim to be) would add extra resources in anticipation.

HMRC will also say that three calls are not statistically valid. But until they do their own mystery shopping and publish the results, we are quite prepared to consider a half-hour wait as not unusual.

Advice to callers

People who cannot get through after a short period of waiting should make a note of when they rang. And if any adverse consequences occur because they were not able to do what HMRC required them to do, they should complain and ask to be compensated.

It really is just not good enough.

(11-04-2012)

Contact: John Andrews (please use form at http://www.litrg.org.uk/ContactUs)