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Tax helpline cuts are ‘backward step’

06 July 2010
Categories: News , call centres , contact centres , helplines , John Andrews , LITRG , NAO , tax advice , Admin
Low-paid individuals will be hardest hit, warns LITRG

Plans to cut the hours in which tax advice helplines operate will make life harder for taxpayers, especially those on meagre pay, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has warned, calling the proposals a ‘backward step’.

HMRC have mooted a number of changes that they say would offer 'significant opportunity to improve the service' provided by the department's contact centres. Suggested measures include closing all locations on Sundays, reducing Saturday and bank holiday opening, and limiting mid-week hours on smaller lines.

Opening times would be extended as needed to meet peaks in demand, such as during the annual tax credits renewals deadline.

The LITRG has urged the taxman to consider the alternative strategy of promoting both Sunday opening and the ease with which online tax-help services can be accessed as an alternative to phone lines.

The group – part of the Chartered Institute of Taxation – has also asked the Revenue to produce an impact assessment of what the call centre changes would mean for individuals on the lowest incomes.

HMRC have claimed their plans will ‘better match our resources to customer-demand profiles. Achieving a better match will improve performance, so that a higher proportion of customers can get through to an advisor when they call.

‘Our analysis suggests that an additional 3% (1.7 million) of our call attempts would be answered first time by moving our advisors from quiet periods to busier ones,’ said the department in a consultation document on the matter.

As part of the LITRG’s official response to the con-doc, chairman John Andrews remarked: ‘This is a backward step for an organisation that is supposed to be customer focused.

‘HMRC’s long-term strategy is to grow their online services, but for this to work taxpayers need access to support and to be able to ask questions. This is particularly the case for taxpayers on low incomes who cannot afford to pay for professional tax help.

‘Some of these people will work long hours during the week and may be able to sort out financial matters only during unsociable hours or at the weekend. Taking away access to HMRC helplines at these times will make the task considerably harder,’ added Mr Andrews.

Last month, the LITRG expressed concern about ‘the slow death’ of Revenue enquiry centres – and earlier this year, a report from the National Audit Office showed that the taxman’s performance in answering phone calls during 2008/09 was well below both industry standards.

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