Home Comforts for HMRC

First published on 25 April 2022 by Alastair
  • Categories:
  • HMRC
  • General News
  • Accounts News
  • News

The pandemic has caused us all to revise the ways we work.  The acronym WFH was unknown in 2019, yet today it is part of many people’s weekly routine.  At M&S we have adapted and adopted WFH as required, but the vast majority of our time is now spent in the office.  The reasons for this are so obvious as almost not to bear repeating, but briefly it’s far easier to communicate with each other and our clients – and it’s also far easier to speak to the directors and get advice if we are in the office.

Unfortunately, other than our clients (and the small number of suppliers we work with), the main organisation we deal with is Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise.  For HMRC, accountancy firms like ours are ‘agents.’  In theory, as the expert go-betweens who act for clients who don’t always understand the ways of Her Majesty’s tax authority, we get a slight degree of preference. 

Pre-pandemic, as agents we could get straight through on the phone to HMRC.  During lockdown it could take from 45 minutes to an hour.  Now, it’s roughly 10 – 15 minutes. We dread to think how bad it is for the public when they try to call. The reasons for this are, sadly, not too difficult to find.

As reported in many papers, HMRC is failing to answer more letters on time after the pandemic.  They responded to around 52% of correspondence within 15 days of receipt in February this year, including mail and online forms. To put this in context, in April 2020 HMRC split these two out separately and answered 88% of iForms within seven days and 79.8% of post within 15 days of receipt. 

One of the reasons for this is also being extensively reported in the media.  It appears that up to three quarters of civil servants are still working from home. A list published recently for all major government departments shows a shockingly small percentage of staff working in their offices on a daily basis. 

Of the 19 departments surveyed, only five have more than half of their staff working in their offices every day.  Top of the list was DFID (International Development), with 73%.  Bottom was the Department for Education, with only 25%.  HMRC was 6th from the bottom, with just one third of its staff working in the office on a daily basis. 

It’s also interesting to note that overall customer satisfaction with HMRC has declined, slipping from 84% in April 2020 to 81.5% in February this year. How much, I wonder, is the absence of its staff from their offices contributed to this?

Tax is just one of government’s responsibilities.  The pressure on the NHS is evident, as is the cost-of-living crisis and the appalling geo-political situation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Money is required to pay for all of these, to say nothing of the myriad of other issues that we need to catch-up with post-Covid.  That money comes largely from tax. Surely, it’s not too much to ask that HMRC makes far greater efforts to get its people back to their desks and speaking to their customers – the people who pay their salaries?

Vivian Linstrom, M&S Accountancy & Taxation

Recent Posts