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HMRC must be more helpful, say MPs

16 May 2008
Categories: News , Admin
Committee of Public Accounts critical of Revenue communications

Ministers have called on the Revenue to make the public's tax affairs easier by improving its communications — both on the phone and online. They have also demanded that the department reveals the amount of tax overpaid each year as a result of errors made on returns.

A new report from the Committee of Public Accounts notes that HMRC's performance in answering telephone queries is still below the general industry benchmark of 80%, despite recent improvement in handling 20 million calls a year from taxpayers wanting general information. It also criticises the Revenue's website for not being user-friendly and for falling short of 'the standards achieved by tax administrations in other countries'.


The document — entitled Helping Individuals Understand and Complete Their Tax Form — notes that 'helping people to provide accurate information about their tax affairs is essential if they are to pay the right amount of tax. Accurate and timely information help to reduce the cost to the department of seeking information or correcting errors'.

The committee's chairman, Edward Leigh MP, said: 'Completing a tax form should be made much simpler. Too many people are unintentionally making mistakes, resulting in an estimated underpayment of tax each year of £330 million.

'It is puzzling, to say the least, that no similar estimate has been attempted of the amount overpaid to the taxman as a result of such mistakes. HMRC should produce such an estimate as soon as possible and also publicise common errors leading to underpayments and overpayments'.

Mr Leigh went on: 'The more accurate, timely and accessible the guidance to taxpayers, the less time and money the department has to spend asking for more information and chasing up and correcting forms. There is a lot of room for improvement here.

'The department is falling short of industry standards in how quickly phone enquiries are picked up and dealt with. Too many callers are still being shunted round the system rather than directed straightaway to the staff with the right knowledge.

'The department's website is still a bit of a maze - and some information leaflets are pitched in language which goes over the head of those whose reading age is less than average.'

The committee's report is critical, too, of HMRC's specialist help for people with disabilities and translation services for printed material — which 'are not well-advertised, and the department's staff are not always aware of them'.

Categories: News , Admin
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