HMRC to set up digital complaints system

HMRC will allow taxpayers to complain online following pressure from MPs and controversy over its long helpline wait times.

Until now, taxpayers contacting HMRC’s Adjudicator’s Office (AO), which handles escalated complaints, were forced to write by post or phone its helpline, where they often face a long wait.

The move comes after Nicky Morgan MP, chair of the Treasury Committee, wrote to HMRC in March to express the Committee’s astonishment that the public are unable to contact the Adjudicator’s Office by email.

HMRC has since responded to the Committee, pledging to provide email, or another form of secure digital channel, for members of the public to contact it by this Autumn at the latest.

HMRC’s failure to move its complaints service online until now will be seen by many as hypocritical, given the controversy it has caused by forcing millions of businesses and individuals to pay tax online this year.

HMRC blamed Brexit for the delay in upgrading its complaints process online, stating that it had prioritized getting ready to leave the EU.

It comes after reports that taxpayers are spending hours trying to speak to HMRC on the telephone, only to be cut off. The average amount of time taxpayers spend on hold is around 11 minutes according to the latest figures, although they can wait far longer at peak times.

There have also been reports of taxpayers being cut off after speaking to an automated voice system for more than 10 minutes.

Commenting on HMRC’s announcement, Morgan said: “The Adjudicator’s Office plays a valuable role in resolving complaints against HMRC, yet many people are unaware of its existence. And of those people who are aware, it can be a struggle for them to get in touch with the AO.

“As the Adjudicator told the Committee, the lack of digital access to the AO’s service is not defendable. Public-facing services simply have to be digitally accessible these days. Whilst it is astonishing in this day and age to say this, HMRC’s long-overdue commitment to provide a digital channel for the public to contact the AO is welcome.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “We provide a high quality, accessible complaints service, with over 98% of complaints resolved internally. Just over 1% of complaints escalate to the Adjudicator (943 complaints in 2017-18).

“HMRC agrees that a secure digital channel is needed for members of the public to contact the Adjudicator’s Office. Over the last year EU exit preparations have been the priority for IT delivery, but the change is now being taken forward. Our aim is to deliver this by the autumn, and potentially sooner if feasible.”

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