Taxman apologises for 'poor performance' at HMRC


HMRC chairman Mike Clasper: "We were simply overwhelmed for a period of time"

The chairman of HM Revenue & Customs has apologised for the treatment of taxpayers after the service was attacked by a committee of MPs.

Mike Clasper said: "We are not happy with our performance in 2010."

The Treasury select committee said dissatisfaction risked undermining public confidence in the tax system.

The worst problems were in getting tax offices to answer phone calls at peak times and "endemic" delays in replying to letters.

Mr Clasper told BBC Radio 5 live: "It simply wasn't good enough on post and telephone and I'd like to take the opportunity to apologise to the people who had to take a long time to get through, or we didn't get back to them quick enough with the post."

HMRC says it has recruited 1,000 extra contact centre advisers to handle calls during "exceptionally busy periods".


Start Quote

We're handling the calls immediately much more frequently than we did in 2010 and as far as individual customers are concerned you know the post levels have dropped in half.”

End Quote Mike Clasper Chairman, HMRC

The MPs report blamed bad management, demoralised staff, excessive job cuts, and increasingly complex tax laws for the poor level of service it had discovered.

"The evidence we have received in this inquiry has been disturbing," the MPs said.

"HMRC's delivery of services to the general public has fallen to unacceptable levels in several areas.

"There is considerable dissatisfaction among the public and tax professionals with the service provided by the department," the MPs added.

Mr Clasper said: "In 2011 we've been working very very hard to improve things. We're handling the calls immediately much more frequently than we did in 2010 and as far as individual customers are concerned you know the post levels have dropped in half.

"That's not where we want to be but it's a lot better than where we were in 2010."

Frank Haskew, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), doubted that the situation would improve.

"Given the necessity to reduce the current 70,000 staff by a further 10,000, we are not convinced that HMRC have the resources or the capability to deliver on improving service standards," he said.

This concern about the future was echoed by the MPs. They said that the HMRC did a good job in collecting taxes.

But they were worried that the quality of service for taxpayers could become even worse.

They pointed to:

  • excessive reliance on the internet for filing tax returns, or giving information, to the disadvantage of those without good internet connections
  • "overly ambitious" computer projects such as the forthcoming plan to make employers submit "real-time" data for the PAYE system
  • the continuing legacy of unresolved tax discrepancies from past years still affecting millions of tax payers
  • senior management's approach to running HMRC which the MPs described as "very disturbing"
  • increasingly complex tax laws
  • the possibility that further job and spending cuts could undermine the department's ability to do its job properly.
  • the use of 0845 phone numbers by HMRC for customer queries. The committee suggested that cheaper 0345 numbers are used.

"We are concerned that HMRC's performance will continue to deteriorate if further reductions in resources are badly managed," the MPs said.

"There was near unanimity among our witnesses that the reductions made so far have had a damaging impact."

Other tax advisers agreed with this diagnosis.

Chas Roy-Chowdhury of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) warned: "If reduced funding leaves HMRC unable to address the basics of maintaining a service for compliant taxpayers, the potential damage to the economy and reputation of the United Kingdom is immense."

Robin Williamson, of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG), said: "If HMRC want to improve taxpayer compliance and reduce error levels, they need to make it easier for people to contact them and get advice that is prompt, accurate and understandable."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    There are too many people and too much paperwork. The system needs radical simplification to make life easier for HMRC employees and tax payers alike. Whenever you phone a government departrment or a customer helpline for almost anything nowadays it's so hard to bypass the recorded options and talk to a real person!
    to a customer service advisor. Why make life more complicated than it has to be?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Whenever I have had to contact HMRC I have had no problems getting through and my issues were solved efficiently by friendly and helpful staff.

    Too many people are keen to rubbish public sector workers but considering the constant hammering in the press and the low pay levels I think they should be praised not blamed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The call centre model is designed to streamline simple transactions; anyone who has dealt with call centres knows as soon as anything becomes complicated the system breaks down. The private sector does not mind because the cost savings compensate for the lost custom, but the model does not work for the public sector where you have no choice of provider, and not in an area as complex as tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    As someone who is ex HMRC, I have been saying this for years and it amazes me that MPs have taken this long to find out. We need a return to the old district system whereby there were officers who knew what they were talking about, not call centres whereby the personnel have never been trained in anything except answering a telephone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    As with most other public services, if they were a private company, in competition with another private company, they'd be out of business by now because no-one would accept this dismal level of customer service. When will public Britain drop this "computer says no" face and come into the real world?!


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