Calling HMRC – do you really need to use a paid recording service?
If you type ‘contact HMRC’ or something similar into a search engine you may spot paid-for Ads for call recording services (Ads are the boxed adverts displayed around the unpaid-for ‘organic’ search engine results). These services offer to record your call to HMRC. This may lead you to believe that HMRC do not record calls you make to them, but they do – and here we tell you how to get hold of a recording if you need it – for free.
One the drawbacks of dealing with HMRC by telephone is the worry of a potential dispute over what was said in the call or indeed, whether there was ever a call at all!
That is why using a call recording service might seem advisable. These are offered by commercial businesses who are not officially affiliated with HMRC. Some charge up to £3.60 per minute for their service, although some are more reasonably priced. We have also seen varying degrees of reassurance regarding the safety and security of any private details you may give in the call, from ‘all recordings are encrypted and are at no point made available to us or any other party’ to no such statements at all.
But did you know that HMRC already record calls made into their main contact centres? Usually, by providing details of of the conversation, HMRC will be able to trace and retrieve the recording. This is why you should ALWAYS keep a note of your phone calls with HMRC, including the date, time, name of the operator and what the call was about. This applies even if (indeed, especially if) the call is a short one, for example a quick call to the tax credits helpline to tell them about a change of circumstance or to the income tax helpline with a general query, the answer to which you later rely on (it can sometimes be more difficult to trace a call if you do not specifically identify yourself by name and National Insurance number during the call).
You can apply for recordings of telephone calls (as well as any other data held by HMRC about you) by lodging a document known as a ‘Subject Access Request’ (SAR) under the data protection rules. A SAR can be made by the online form on the HMRC website. HMRC are required to comply with a SAR request within 40 calendar days. If HMRC delay replying or their response is inadequate, you can contact the Information Commissioner.
Even though HMRC say they record calls, it is advisable to still keep a note of the date, time and operator’s name as well as brief notes of the content of the call. Such a note is often all that is needed in terms of evidence of a call or its content, and the SAR then becomes a fall-back. The note can also be useful if HMRC cannot retrieve a copy of the actual call.
Call forwarding services
As well as HMRC call recording services, you may come across HMRC ‘call forwarding services’ in the search engine results (see our article ‘Don’t get caught out by fake HMRC phone numbers’ for more information on call forwarding services).
We would like to reiterate that numbers advertised on the internet, beginning with 08 and 09 are not real HMRC helpline numbers even though some of the service providers may try and pass themselves off as official by including the genuine ‘www.gov.uk/hmrc’ link in their Ads. The main HMRC helpline numbers are 03 numbers. Calling the 08 or 09 numbers will get you through to HMRC – but probably at an inflated price in comparison with a direct call to HMRC.
If you do find yourself needing to search for an HMRC phone number or indeed information about any government department or service, then you should access GOV.UK and use the search facility there, rather than using a search engine. This is the main message from the ‘StartatGOV.UK’ campaign and may help limit unofficial websites and phone numbers in time.
Other ways of contacting HMRC
You can increasingly contact HMRC online, for example via the new personal tax account or their webchat service, which we explain in our news piece 'Do you need help with tax credits? New HMRC web chat service available'. All such transactions are ‘recorded’ in HMRCs logs and may mean that you can bypass the phones altogether!