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Taxman failing to handle phone calls: NAO

15 January 2010
Categories: News , Admin
44m queries went unanswered in 2008/09

HMRC were today criticised for failing to efficiently handle queries from taxpayers and their advisers, as 44 million telephone calls went unanswered in 2008/09.

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that the Revenue’s performance in answering calls during the year was well below both the department’s own targets and industry standards.

In the customer contact directorate, which answers 95% of calls to the taxman’s 31 UK contact centres, only 57% of 103 million calls were answered, compared with 71% in the previous year and the industry benchmark of more than 90%.

Call volumes vary greatly throughout the year, reflecting the flow of work on individual taxes, benefits and associated statutory deadlines. The number of calls per month in 2008/09 ranged from four million to 17 million.

Consequently, performance in answering also varied: 33% during the tax credit renewals peak (July), and 85% in the relatively quiet month of December.

HMRC have acknowledged that such performance is unacceptable, and the department has launched initiatives to improve its management of caller demand.

There have been signs of significant improvement in 2009/10, said the NAO, with the percentage of calls answered rising to 73% in the first half of the year. The directorate has introduced a change programme with the aim of tackling 90% of calls at around 30% less cost by March 2012.

The NAO report also addresses the matter of cost of handing calls. Overall staffing levels do not fluctuate in line with call volumes. As a result, the monthly average cost per call answered in 2008-09 ranged from around £2.50 to more than £5.

Time is also a factor in the office’s new document. The percentage of contact centre staff time spent on customer contact or follow-up work was 38%, which does not appear out of line with other central government agencies but is well below a best practice industry benchmark of 6o%, said the NAO.

It estimates that by halving the 35% of contact with taxpayers the Revenue considers to be avoidable and better use of its resources, the Department could answer 90% of calls and achieve a substantial reduction in its costs.

Comptroller and auditor-general Amyas Morse remarked that the Revenue ‘seems to be going in the right direction, seeking strategic savings by reducing face-to-face interaction where the job can be done by telephone or online.

‘However, this may not be much comfort if yours was one of the 43% of calls that did not get an answer in 200809. HMRC need to get telephone service standards up significantly if the transition to technology-enabled working is to have taxpayer support and deliver value for money.’

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group said that taxpayers who are unable to afford representation are most likely to suffer HMRC call centres’ lack of efficiency:

‘If they cannot get through… they lose out financially and may incur tax credit overpayments or tax penalties. The true victims of HMRC’s inefficiency are not HMRC itself but [taxpayers], with those on the lowest incomes faring the worst.’

Categories: News , Admin
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