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Published on 19 March 2024

Self assessment phone line closure disappointing, but not unexpected

Press release

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has responded with disappointment to the announcement1 that HMRC are to permanently close their self assessment helpline for six months of the year and reduce access to the line at other times of the year. 

a phone left off the receiver showing it is inactive

HMRC have announced that the self assessment helpline will be closed between 8 April and 30 September, with only priority queries dealt with between October and March. What counts as a priority query will change depending on whether it is before or after the self assessment deadline. This is to encourage more taxpayers to interact with HMRC online and follows trials last year that HMRC say were successful.

Victoria Todd, Head of LITRG, said:

“Today’s announcements are disappointing, but not unexpected.

“Ever since HMRC announced they were closing the self assessment helpline as a pilot, it has felt inevitable that this would become a permanent change, given the pressures on HMRC’s resources.

“We still haven’t seen any evidence to back up HMRC’s claim that around two-thirds of callersto the self assessment helpline can deal with their enquiry online and we are concerned about the robustness of the evaluations that have been used to justify this decision3.

“For one thing, HMRC don’t appear to have evaluated whether the trials impacted the quality of tax returns submitted and therefore whether taxpayers were able to get their taxes right without access to the helpline.

“There is no doubt that digital services can bring benefits provided they are convenient and quick to use. However, HMRC’s online services, including guidance and the automated digital assistant, are not yet at the standard required to support a forced channel shift to digital.

“This increases the likelihood of errors and non-compliance, storing up problems for taxpayers and HMRC further down the line.”

HMRC say that customers who need extra support, such as those who are vulnerable or digitally excluded, will be able to speak to HMRC.

Victoria Todd continued:

“Although HMRC say that those who need extra support will still be able to speak to them, the process to do so is lengthy and unnecessarily complicated.

“Taxpayers needing extra support are left jumping through hoops to get through to someone who can help them. An automated message directs them to phone the online services helpdesk and they must then navigate a range of options before they can speak to someone.

“We think it would be much more straightforward if HMRC connected these callers directly to an operator who can triage their call. It would also reduce the risk that their call goes unanswered4.

“This new approach puts the emphasis on taxpayers to self-identify that they need extra support, whereas previously HMRC call centre staff were trained to listen for a wide range of indicators of need during the initial telephone conversation.

“That was an important safeguard for people who may not recognise that they need extra support and, like the decision to close down the main helpline, risks creating more problems further down the line”. 

Notes for editors

  1. HMRC encourages customers to interact online with changes to its Self Assessment, PAYE and VAT services (HMRC press release, 19 March 2024)
  2. See HMRC news story announcing the self assessment helpline trial.
  3. Evaluation of changes to how HMRC supports Self Assessment customers (HMRC, 19 March 2024). A further potential omission from the evaluation is that it makes no mention of whether there was any impact on volumes of post received by HMRC, so we do not know whether some people might have chosen to write to them as a result of the helpline closure.
  4. According to HMRC’s evaluation, only 75.3% of adviser attempts were handled on the Online Services Helpline. Even once answered, only 88% of calls transferred to the extra support team were handled.
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