Here is the unedited text:
"A few years ago I did a tiny amount of self employed work. A few days at the most. However, being a good citizen I registered with the tax office and declared it using HMRCs rather complicated online system.
I then got a job where my employer pays all my tax etc. A job I'm still in. So, I took the time to tell HMRC that I was no longer self employed. Three attempts it took. Three long calls waiting on hold before someone managed to put the right details on the computer. They confirmed that I would not have to file a tax return this year.
So you can imagine my surprise when I received a letter today saying I'd been fined £100 - for not filing a self employed tax return, despite the fact I'm not self employed.
Easy, I thought, just give them a call and get it sorted. And thus began a whole lost morning - a morning I will never get back, a morning that is lost to me forever, a morning that took me from a chipper motivated citizen to a grown man crying and quite literally wanting to not live in a country that can produce such ball-achingly nonchalance from public servants.
I'm not going to tell the whole story, but instead look at the highlights, or perhaps I should say lowlights.
1) Getting through.
It took almost 90 minutes to speak to an actual person. I understand that lines might be busy, but do you know how soul destroying 90 minutes of listening to piped music is. This was compounded by the fact I got through 3 times to an actual person - who promptly hung up before I could speak. I suspect, no...I know ...this is a blatant attempt to make it look like call times and waiting times are less than they are. But 90 minutes. 90 minutes that has been ripped from my life. 90 minutes closer to my death with nothing achieved aside from hearing the tax office's idea of perky music. I'm no theologist, but I think I have seen what hell looks like. Hell is not other people; hell is other people hanging up.
2) Contradiction much?
I understand that mistakes are made, especially in a vast organisation like HMRC. I understand that I'm a small cog in a big machine, but do you know what would make it better to cope with - if the bad news stayed the same. In other words, I don't get the first person I speak to to tell me one thing, only for it only to be contradicted by the second. For instance "Filing a return will automatically cancel a fine" ...two minutes later "Filing a return will not automatically cancel a fine". "You don't need to file a return" ...two minutes later "you do need to file one".
It leaves a person confused, angry and unsure. This should not be the end product of customer service.
3) Terminating the call.
"I'd like to speak to a supervisor"
"He'll call you back"
"I'd like to hold and be put through, if that's ok"
"No it's not. You'll either get called back or I'm terminating the call"
....I think this one speaks for itself. The motto seems to be "The customer is never right. The customer will fit around us".
4) The jargon.
I don't work for HMRC, which makes the sneering attitude from staff of "Huh, why don't you know that?" especially galling. Let's just make this clear. I did a few days self employed work a few years back. This does not make me an expert in the internal working of the tax office.
It's almost a kind of bullying isn't it? The attitude of "I know more than you". Yes, you do...but the point is to put the knowledge to use to help the customer - not to make them feel uninformed and belittled.
I don't blame the staff. No doubt they are going through hell themselves - job insecurity, understaffing and stress. Bad customers service is very rarely "a few bad apples" - it's usually has it's root in the attitude of the organisation as a whole, and the lead given from the top.
Unfortunately, the ethos of HMRC seems to be everything is too much trouble, information doesn't have to be accurate, or indeed true - it just needs to get the customer off the phone. Done, done, onto the next one. The ethos seems to be "the customer is invariably stupid and wrong, what else could explain why they are not experts in how we work?"
So the upshot is that I lost a morning, being given contradictory information and slightly belittled, to the point where after the call I sat here wracked with anger, frustration and an overwhelming sadness of what we have to endure when dealing with government departments. The keyword here is "endure". At what point did trying to get good customer service become a matter of stamina? A matter of 'the weak fall by the wayside'?
I'm not ashamed to say, as I sat here shaking a shed a couple of tears feeling impotent, browbeaten and sad.
I'm not asking for the world, but is some consistent information and a polite attitude too much to ask for? If only so a grown man won't be reduced to tears by the very people who are employed to provide a service to him?
Finally, you know the worst thing? The most depressing fact of all? That even if the head of HMRC read this, I suspect my experience would just be ignored, shrugged off. After all, the customer is never right.
Another one reduced to tears - like I said, done, done and on to the next one."
Tax does have to be taxing.
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