A report by The Public Accounts Committee has given HMRC a sound kicking wrt its communications with taxpayers.
The report said:
"The department's target to answer at least 90% of telephone callers within a day is not demanding, nor in line with industry benchmarks."
It noted that callers receive incorrect advice when they ring up, and HMRC's website is poorly designed.
"The Department's website is not user friendly and falls short of the standards achieved by tax administrations in other countries.
It should improve accessibility with more effective search engine and navigation tools, including last-modified dates on webpages, and by meeting Cabinet Office guidelines on accessibility for groups such as blind and partially sighted users.
It should not wait for the Direct.gov website to become available in 2011 as the main web channel for citizens before carrying out these improvements."
It also noted, something that I find amazing given that we are now in the 21st century, the fact that HMRC does not readily allow taxpayers to send email.
Anyone would think that HMRC doesn't want to interact with the taxpaying public, or indeed help them!
Other gems include the fact that guidance leaflets produced by HMRC require a reading age higher than the national average, and the fact that HMRC have not estimated the amount of tax overpaid.
Here are the 10 conclusions and recommendations:
1. HMRC answers 72% of telephone calls within 20 seconds, compared with a general industry benchmark of 80%. HMRC should aspire to be an industry leader, aiming to match the average standards achieved by other organisations and then to achieve those of the top-performing organisations industry-wide.
2. HMRC's target to answer at least 90% of telephone callers within a day is not demanding, nor in line with industry benchmarks. To measure its performance and set targets it should introduce recognised industry benchmarks such as the average time to answer and the percentage of calls answered within 20 seconds.
3. Telephone callers sometimes receive incorrect or incomplete advice because they are not referred to staff with appropriate knowledge.
4. HMRC's website is not user friendly and falls short of the standards achieved by tax administrations in other countries.
5. The Income Tax Self Assessment return is the only personal tax form which can
be filed online and the Department offers very restricted facilities for people to contact it by email.
6. Many people have to contact HMRC to obtain information which should be readily available on its website in printed guidance or in letters.
7. Only 10% of HMRC's forms advertise the availability of documents in alternative formats for blind and partially sighted people, special telephone numbers for people who are hard of hearing and translation services.
8. HMRC does not systematically assess the accuracy and completeness of advice given in face-to-face contact at enquiry centres, and these centres do not always tell visitors about alternative formats or translation services.
9. In a sample of commonly used guidance leaflets, half required a reading age higher than the national average. The guidance accompanying HMRC's forms is lengthy and dense, making it difficult to understand.
10. HMRC has estimated that the level of underpayments on Self Assessed Income Tax was £2.8 billion in 2001–02, of which around £330 million may have been due to unintentional mistakes by taxpayers. It has not estimated the amount of tax overpaid. The Department should set a timetable for producing its first estimate of overpayments.
The full report can be accessed here "HM Revenue and Customs: Helping individuals understand and complete their tax forms"
Tax does have to be taxing.
The New Statesman, Britain's leading political magazine is delighted to announce that HMRC Is Shite has been nominated for a New Media Award in the category of Campaign For Change. The campaign for change award will go to the individual or organisation that has most effectively influenced opinions and behaviour through the use of new media technology. The winner of this award will champion a cause and provide information and tools to instigate change.
The full press release can be downloaded here.
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