It will hardly come as a surprise to thousands of disgruntled consumers then, that a Treasury sub-committee inquiry has identified serious concerns with the running of HMRC.
The Treasury Committee's report into the Administration and Effectiveness of HMRC has found "considerable dissatisfaction among the public and tax professionals" with the service provided by the Department. The Committee has expressed concerns of "a serious risk that if communicating with HMRC becomes too time-consuming, difficult and expensive, respect for the tax system...may be undermined".
The report identified serious concerns in a number of areas, including:
- Unacceptable difficulties contacting HMRC by phone during peak periods
- Endemic delays in responding to post
- An increasing focus on online communication and a lack of alternatives for those without reliable internet access.
Paul Aplin, the Chair of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales's Technical Committee, told of his experiences as practitioner in the South West: "Five or six years ago, if we wanted a relatively simple thing done, like a PAYE coding changed, it was one telephone call, the coding would be changed that day, and it was a very simple and efficient process. If I want that simple thing done today it can take me literally months".The Committee did however recognise that the Department performs a crucial role and operates under significant external pressures including continuing resource reductions, deficiencies in tax legislation and the legacy of the merger. As of September 2010, a surprisingly high 72.5 percent of customers were satisfied with HMRC's performance.
However, the report concluded that the Department has a difficult few years ahead of it, as it attempts to improve its service to taxpayers and benefits claimants, stabilise the PAYE system and introduce Real-time information.
The Committee recommendations
The report made some recommendations for improving HMRC's service including:
- Improving the service provided by contact centres, particularly in relation to escalating complex queries and providing alternatives to 0845 numbers
- Providing a real alternative to online contact, including more cost-effective ways of providing face-to-face advice
- Better targeting of letters that threaten serious consequences against individuals
- Having the National Audit Office externally audit preparations for Real-time Information, to ensure Ministers can be held accountable for progress against the Government's ambitious timetable
- Examining how the Department can achieve better accountability around the settlement of large tax cases.