It’s already notorious. But is it set to get worse? It looks like HMRC’s call centre waiting times could get even longer thanks to planned staff reductions between now and 2021. And the news begs some important questions.

  1. One, if you left customers endlessly hanging on the telephone, how long would your business survive?
  2. Two, how come it’s OK for HMRC to let service levels slip so badly when doing the same in the private sector would land you in total disaster?

HMRC planning to cut staff by a third for 2021

HMRC is planning to reduce its staff by a dramatic 33% or so by the year 2021 and it’s feared their plans will  result in even longer waiting times, with more customers left hanging on the telephone for longer.  Several MPs have raised concerns about the proposals, as has the financial services firm PfP.

Waiting for answers costs the taxpayer £97 million a year

Endless waiting times on HMRC phone calls apparently cost us taxpayers £97 million in 2015, many of whom are self-employed. It’s much more than expensive and frustrating. It’s genuinely risky. The long waiting times are forcing people to give up and hang up. Which means they’re not getting the advice they need and could end up making nasty mistakes on their tax returns… which in turn could cost them even more in tax than they actually owe.

HMRC plans to punish late payers and slam businesses for tax mistakes

At the same time HMRC has recently revealed plans to triple the fines handed out to small businesses who pay their taxes late or get the amount they’re supposed to pay wrong. This has been going on against a background where HMRC’s service was labelled as either bad or very bad by more than half of the voters who expressed an opinion in a poll by Simply Business. Spot the disconnect!

The public sector gets away with murder

This simply couldn’t happen in the ‘real’ commercial world of the private sector, where customer service excellence is essential for survival, never mind success. If HMRC operated in the private sector they’d be long gone, driven out of business because of silly mistakes and terrible customer service. But the public sector seems to be different. The taxpayer funds HMRC, but as consumers of the British tax service we’re stuck with a system any decent private sector business would despair of… and do something about in double-quick time.

When is the best time to try to contact HMRC by phone?

With the best will in the world, it can be hard to avoid calling HMRC altogether. If you need to call, PfP have carried out an analysis. It’s best to avoid calling between 4.30-5pm , when things get frantic and the waiting timer is at least 12 minutes. The best time to phone HMRC seems to be 8.30 – 9.30am, when the average call waiting time reduces to ‘only’ four minutes.

The trick is to avoid having to call HMRC altogether. Hand your tax and VAT matters over to a professional and it’s highly unlikely you’ll need to pick up the phone yourself. Result!