- HMRC gave taxpayers two working days’ notice ahead of reduced phone service
- Tax office will only take ‘priority calls’ and will direct others to website for help
HM Revenue and Customs is shutting its Self Assessment helpline to the majority of callers from Monday, leaving taxpayers unable to access phone support in the crucial run up to the return deadline.
The tax office will only take ‘priority calls’ – and will direct everyone else to its website for help.
The announcement has provoked anger among MPs and tax experts, who warned it could lead to taxpayers inadvertently making mistakes on their tax returns and facing fines further down the line.
The run up to the January 31 tax return deadline is one of the busiest periods for the tax office, with around 5.5 million taxpayers phoning the helpline each year.
This year is set to be particularly busy as hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed into higher tax brackets by frozen allowances.
However, HMRC has given taxpayers just two working days’ notice ahead of the reduced phone service.
HMRC (pictured) has given taxpayers just two working days’ notice ahead of the reduced phone service
The tax office will only take ‘priority calls’ – and will direct everyone else to its website for help (Stock Image)
Chair of the Treasury Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said the cross-party group of MPs has repeatedly stressed its concern to HMRC about the management of its Self-Assessment Helpline. HMRC instigated a similar closure for three months over the summer.
‘Giving the public less than two working days’ notice of a significant reduction in service, while the deadline for Self Assessment returns looms, is yet another alarming development for an increasingly pressured government service,’ she said.
HMRC said around two-thirds of calls to its Self Assessment helpline can be resolved far quicker through its online services.
It added that callers would be told about its extensive online services through recorded messages and text messages.
Priority will be given to answering queries that cannot easily be dealt with online and to customers who need extra support or cannot use its online services.
In a letter to the Treasury Select Committee, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said that the department needs to reduce the volume of contact through phone and post by at least 30 per cent by 2025 compared to 2021/22 ‘in order to deliver our service standards with the resources we have’.
Dawn Register, head of tax dispute resolution at accountancy firm BDO, said it was ‘very unhelpful’ that HMRC gave so little notice of the closure.
‘Taxes can be complicated and I fear that if people are directed online they may find themselves looking at the wrong section and finding an incorrect answer to their query,’ she added.
‘People who phone the helpline are simply conscientious members of the public trying to pay the correct bill.’
Victoria Todd, head of The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, said she was concerned that some of HMRC’s online services are not yet of the standard needed to properly support taxpayers.
‘Forcing taxpayers to use services that are not up to scratch risks an erosion of trust in the tax system, leading to errors, non-compliance and more problems for taxpayers and HMRC further down the line,’ she added.