HMRC over-eager and misguided in digital transition, says NAO

The National Audit Office (NAO) has published a new report claiming that HM Revenue & Customs has been too eager to cut off its traditional contact channels in favour of online services.

In the five years between 2010 and 2015, HMRC cut its personal tax workforce from 26,000 to 15,000.

In the age of automated telephone calls and paperless self-assessment, the NAO is arguing that service users are becoming increasingly frustrated with HMRC’s diminishing one-to-one telephone advice service.

The watchdog’s study revealed that the telephone remained a preferred method of communication, but that the average self-assessment service user had to wait an average of 47 minutes to talk to an advisor in the deadline week for paper returns last October.

The NAO estimated that overall costs for customers calling HMRC helplines increased from £63 million in 2012-13 to a staggering £97 million in 2015-16.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “HMRC’s overall strategy of using digitally enabled information to improve efficiency and deliver service in new ways make sense to the NAO.

“This does not change the fact that they got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably. This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount.

“HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards.”