HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) needs to work hard to improve its customer service phone lines according to the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG). Their research has found that HMRC keep callers waiting for as much as 30 minutes.
The news comes after HMRC has come under fire for a number of service problems, mostly recently for shutting down its IT system over the Easter period when many companies planned to file their VAT returns to meet the 7 April deadline.
In 1997 the Inland Revenue aimed to answer a telephone call within 30 seconds 91 per cent of the time, but that service pledge has slipped considerably in recent years, and the LITRG say the wait can now be excessively costly, especially for callers on a low income.
A long waitIn 2011 the HMRC Chairman told the Treasury Sub-Committee that he expected to see a "period of steady improvement" in the department's performance in answering telephone calls.
However, on Tuesday 10 April 2012, LITRG made three calls to HMRC helplines using the routes taken by an ordinary PAYE caller, a pensioner and a tax credit claimant. On average the wait was 29 minutes.
On a PAYG mobile that could have cost £11.60 per call, which could equate to half a day's income for a pensioner.
Prepared for HMRC's defence the group defiantly states that, "HMRC will say that three calls are not statistically valid. But until they do their own mystery shopping and publish the results, we are quite prepared to consider a half-hour wait as not unusual."
They added, "No doubt, HMRC will claim that there was pent-up demand over Easter. But a customer-centric organisation (as HMRC claim to be) would add extra resources in anticipation."
Reputation at riskAfter widespread criticism from many different corners, this latest complaint is another black mark on HMRC's reputation, and not being seen to be able to fufil even the simplest customer service commitments seriously undermines the department's credibility.
The LITRG argues that; "no doubt HMRC can produce statistics to show that people are getting through more often than they did, or are being cut off less often. But this does not take into account the length of time people have to wait to get a response."
Advice to callers
The LITRG suggests that people who cannot get through after a short period of waiting should make a note of when they rang.
The group says that if any adverse consequences occur because they were not able to do what HMRC required them to do, they should make an official complaint and ask to be compensated appropriately.