As loyal readers know, getting through to HMRC on the phone is something of an endurance test. As such, it should come as no surprise to anyone to learn that the National Audit office (NAO) is none too impressed with caller wait times either.
The NAO reports that a decision to cut jobs in HMRC meant that call waiting times tripled to 47 minutes last October just as paper tax returns were due. Bizarrely more than 5,000 HMRC staff were moved away from its call centres at a time when telephone calls were not falling.
“HMRC’s overall strategy of using digitally enabled information to improve efficiency and deliver service in new ways make sense to the NAO. This does not change the fact that they got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably. This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount. HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards”.Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 25 May 2016
The cost to the economy of leaving millions of callers hanging on the line (which as per the Telegraph is officially priced at £17 an hour) was £97million, up by 50% in three years.
The chaos prompted HMRC belatedly to send 2,400 staff to man the phones at its call centres, which in turn meant they had to “defer essential work to maintain PAYE records”.
The consequences of moving the deckchairs in this manner was a doubling of discrepancies between PAYE and self-assessment returns, leaving a risk that 3.2million people had “paid the wrong amount of tax”.
HMRC will be quizzed by PAC next month about this clusterfuck.
How ironic that just as this chaos is being exposed to the cold light of day, Dame Homer retired last month. The timing of her retirement couldn't be better, and is the only thing that she has got right in her civil service career!
Tax does have to be taxing.
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