A new report by the National Audit Office (NAO), 'The quality of service for personal taxpayers', reveals that HMRC misjudged its customer staffing in its move to automate telephony and change to paperless self assessment in 2014 and 2015.

  • Too many staff were cut too quickly with the result that call waiting times tripled with customers being kept on hold for up to an hour.
  • During October 2015 people phoning the self-assessment tax queries line spent an average 47 minutes on hold.
  • The NAO estimated that the delays would have cost callers £97 million in waiting time.
  • The increased cost to customers was £4 for every £1 saved by HMRC.

The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) has called for a thorough rethink by the government about the resourcing of HMRC, with ATT president Michael Steed said:

"There needs to be a thorough review of HMRC’s resourcing because an inadequately funded and inefficient operating tax system affects everyone.

“It is imperative that HMRC ensures that a well-functioning and well-informed service to personal taxpayers is in place before it goes further with digitalisation. A digitally distracted HMRC is focusing so much on the projects related to the future delivery of services that it has evidently been paying far too little attention to the here and now.

“We are concerned that even though telephone service delivery has improved, the responses show that HMRC staff lack training on basic aspects of tax and so incorrect advice is too often given to taxpayers.

“The under-funding of HMRC has inevitably taken its toll on HMRC staff. It is to their credit that the front-line staff continue to attempt to provide some form of service to a public that has become increasingly frustrated by ludicrously long phone waiting times and other major shortfalls in service as outlined in this welcome report.”

HMRC have responded by saying that its service levels have since improved and that it is now offering its best service levels in years with call waiting times reduced to an average of six minutes.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee who were highly critical of HMRC's performance levels in delivering customer service in their report on HMRC's 2014-15 performance will revisit this issue on 13th June.