Only one day after announcing a restriction to its VAT, Self Assessment and PAYE helplines, HMRC has had a change of heart.


On 19 March

HMRC announced changes to its services in an effort to encourage customers to move online wherever possible.  They said that over the last year they had sucessfully trialled encouraging people to go online first and it would become a permanent feature from 8 April 2024.  The anticipated changes were:

  • Closing the Self Assessment helpline from April to September and leaving customers to self-serve online.
  • Restricting the Self Assessment helpline between October and March to priority queries.  Anyone with a more straightforward or speedy query would be directed to the online services.
  • A five-day only open period per month for the VAT helpline ahead of the deadline for filing VAT returns.  For the remaining time customers would be directed to online services.
  • Closure of the PAYE helpline for dealing with refunds.  Customers would have to use online services.
  • Anyone unable to use online services or who has health or personal circumstances that mean they need extra support would be able to contact HMRC advisers during normal office opening hours.
  • All other helplines to continue to operate as at present.

On 20 March

HMRC announced it was halting its plans in response to feedback.  Amongst his comments, HMRC Chief Executive Jim Harra said "We've listened to the feedback and we're halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers' needs are met."  This means the Self Assessment helpline will remain open between April and September.

Commonsense has prevailed?

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) and its Low Incomes Tax Reform Group had strongly criticised the announcement of 19 March.  CIOT President Gary Ashford said:  “We are deeply dismayed that, so soon after the criticisms levelled at them by the Public Accounts Committee, and in the light of an inconclusive evaluation, HMRC have decided to make these big, permanent cuts to the help they provide to taxpayers. If last year’s announcement of the summer closure of the Self-Assessment helpline was a ‘flashing indicator’ that HMRC can’t cope, today’s announcements are a blinding light."

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) had similarly criticised the announcement of the closures.  In responding to the change on 20 March Caroline Miskin, Senior Technical manager ICAEW Tax Faculty said: “This surprising U-turn is good news for taxpayers, who need HMRC customer service to be responsive to their queries.  If taxpayers can’t speak to a human when they need to, there is a real risk that they give up on trying to do the right thing and that errors and non-compliance increase."

 External links

HMRC helpline changes halted

HMRC encourages customers to interact online with changes to its Self Assessment, PAYE and VAT services