Self-Assessment Helpline Service Reduction Further Proof Of ‘Unacceptably Poor Service’ From HMRC, Says Leading Finance Professionals

LONDON, UK - January 24th 2019: HMRC, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs tax return paperwork.
  • Self-assessment tax helplines to be severely reduced during the busiest time of year for taxpayers and finance professionals.
  • The move has been criticised by leading global finance professional body ACCA, highlighting that this is a further example of HMRC’s ‘unacceptably poor service’. 

HMRC has recently announced that access to self-assessment tax helplines will be dramatically curtailed from the 11 December – 31 January, causing concern for many taxpayers and finance professionals who are due to file tax returns.

The Self-Assessment helplines will be closed for the majority of enquiries, and only open for ‘’priority calls”. It seems these are those that HMRC is of the opinion “cannot be easily dealt with online”. In the same period last year, HMRC helplines received 1.2 million calls – more than one fifth of the total calls received in the 12-month period.

HMRC has yet to share how these priority calls will be ranked and dealt with during this period.

The Self-Assessment helplines were previously closed over the summer, which caused numerous headaches for finance professionals and taxpayers alike, as they struggled to get access to answers for basic queries.

HMRC has highlighted that there are online resources available that taxpayers and finance professionals can turn to, including the YouTube channel and the HMRC gov.uk website. HMRC stated that the top five most common queries received over the phone can all be answered by online resources. Currently, HMRC call wait times vary greatly with an average wait time of 28 minutes.

HMRC’s timing is not helpful as this year will see many people forced to fill a self-assessment return for the first time, due to frozen thresholds and rising incomes. This reaches across all areas of employed, self-employed and retired people who are now required to file a self-assessment. Many people are likely to be left with questions about how to approach their tax returns, and lacking a helpline to speak to HMRC staff will cause further worry and confusion.

Lloyd Powell, head of ACCA Cymru Wales, commented:

“The dramatically reduced service will be a worry for taxpayers and financial professionals alike. At a time when queries around self-assessment go up significantly, this move by HMRC once again demonstrates it lacks the proper resources that it desperately needs.

“ACCA has repeatedly called on the UK government to make significant improvements to the HMRC services, including the availability of HMRC agents to resolve basic issues which currently not being achieved using the current HMRC online services. At the moment, finance professionals and taxpayers bear the cost of these inefficiencies and are having to spend many hours trying to resolve issues; time that would be better spent on their businesses.

“We stand by our previous statement whereby we referred to HMRC as having ‘unacceptably poor service’. The difficulties experienced by accountants in working with HMRC cannot be overstated, and the reduced service offered by the helplines will surely only further exacerbate poor service levels and cause more frustrations at one of the busiest times of the year.”

Visit ACCA’s website for more information.

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Lisa Baker is the Editor of Always Finance, and writes about Business, Finance Technology and Healthcare. Lisa is also the owner of Need to See IT Publishing.