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This week's opinion: 2 May 2024

29 April 2024 / Andrew Hubbard
Issue: 4934 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
One in two taxpayers called the SA helpline

This exchange from HMRC’s recent appearance before the Treasury Committee made me sit up:

Dr Coffey: Of the 12 million people who are asked to fill in a tax return, how many contacted you in the last tax year?

Jim Harra: Calls to our self-assessment helpline are roughly at about one call for every two taxpayers.

Dr Coffey: So half the people have to contact you in some way.

Until I heard this I had never appreciated (perhaps I should have done) that the percentage of callers was so high. Some callers may ring more than once and a lot will be ringing about access rather than tax, but even so it is an astonishingly high number. Calls are expensive for HMRC to deal with (to say nothing of the cost to those who make them) and you can see why the department wants to reduce costs.

HMRC says that getting people to use digital services is one answer. I agree that that is part of the solution and one got a real feeling for Jim Harra’s frustration that the plans to close the helplines had to be speedily reversed. But the outcry showed how sensitive this issue is. He accepted that communication was poor: ‘We published a detailed evaluation on the same day that we announced what we were going to do as a result of it. I think we did not give enough time when we published the evaluation to take our stakeholders through it and explain the evidence.’

We can all agree with that. I leave it to others to decide whether they also agree with the sting in the tail which followed: ‘Frankly, I think some of the speed of the stakeholder reaction indicates that they did not have the time to digest the evaluation that we had published.’

If you do one thing…

If you advise employment agencies ensure that they are aware of the latest HMRC spotlight ‘Warning for employment agencies using umbrella companies’ (

Issue: 4934 / Categories: Comment & Analysis
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