HM Revenue & Customs withdraw all 0845 numbers
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have announced that they are withdrawing all their 0845 helpline telephone numbers from 30 June 2015. Callers should use the 03 helpline telephone numbers instead. LITRG has broadly welcomed this change, but remains very concerned about the cost of calls from some mobile phones.
From 30 June 2015 the 0845 HMRC helpline numbers will be withdrawn completely, meaning that if you dial an old 0845 helpline number, you will hear a dead line tone.
HMRC have gradually been switching from 0845 to 03 helpline telephone numbers since 2013. During the transitional period both sets of numbers were active. Since 11 December 2014, only the 03 telephone helpline numbers have been active and if you telephoned an old 0845 number, you received a message from HMRC telling you the new number to call, as reported in our December news item.
LITRG has campaigned for a very long time for an improvement in HMRC’s telephone service. The combination of 0845 numbers, long waiting times and pay as you go (PAYG) mobile phones (often used by people on low incomes) meant that calling HMRC was disproportionately costly for taxpayers and employers.
LITRG looked at how much it costs to ring HMRC on 0845 numbers in 2006, and welcomed a consultation by the telephone regulator Ofcom in 2011. This consultation document recommended the use of 0345 numbers over their 0845 counterparts and therefore offered an opportunity to HMRC to adopt a fairer telephone policy and to help their most vulnerable customers. This was soon followed by the introduction of a 0345 number for the tax credits helpline.
We have previously welcomed the introduction of 03 helpline numbers, as in general these should result in cost savings for many callers to the lines. Callers only pay the same amount as a landline call to a 01 or a 02 number and the price should be the same for calls from mobiles. 0300 numbers are generally included in any discount schemes or inclusive call minutes that claimants may already have with landline or mobile phone operators.
Whilst we are encouraged by the changes, it should be noted that if you call a 03 number from a PAYG mobile or if you have used up your inclusive call minutes, calls to 03 numbers from a mobile phone can cost between 10p and 40p per minute – the rate depends on your mobile network. Many low income taxpayers and claimants use PAYG mobiles and at a time when the HMRC phone lines are incredibly busy long wait times are possible, this means that the cost of calling HMRC can be prohibitive for some claimants who may need to speak to them urgently.
Last week, HMRC acknowledged that call handling had not been ‘up to scratch’, which is an extraordinary comment. They have now committed to allocating £45 million to improve customer service. In light of this, we urge HMRC to continue to review their telephony strategy to ensure that there are enough staff to deal with calls, especially during peak times and that people do not incur large charges for trying to contact HMRC.
You can find the 03 helpline numbers on the GOV.UK website.