As widely reported in the last few days, HMRC is to try to improve its (perhaps less than exemplary) customer service by trialling a new way of responding to all those pesky ‘customers’ (i.e. the people who pay their salaries) by text rather than phone.
Now we know - and sympathise, up to a point - with the staff at HMRC who are under a lot of pressure. That said, it’s their job to answer queries and help the public to get their tax affairs sorted out. If they don’t then it’s their customers who tend to suffer and get penalised, not (usually) HMRC.
With the tax authorities expecting 170,000 calls in January as we all try to get our returns in before the deadline, the new system (which will run until April this year) will send text responses to hundreds of thousands of basic/routine questions from taxpayers. We could, somewhat churlishly, wonder why this wasn’t introduced at the start of January (it only began on the 19th), but better late than never. Depending on your actual query, these text messages with be automatically triggered (i.e. it sounds like you’ll have to press 1, 2, 3 etc.) if you call from a mobile. Calls from a landline won’t be affected (hint!). The text message will take the caller through to the appropriate page on the HMRC website, where they should find the information they are looking for…
This does make sense, although I do wonder just how many will have already looked up the website, not understood it and are therefore calling to get help. This is likely to lead to some rather frayed nerves, but to be fair, the majority should find this system helpful. It will, obviously, also free up the lines for those who really do need assistance with more complex questions. But even these people will be offered the option of a text message. If you have a really difficult issue and want to speak to a human being, then the secret (other than using a landline) is to stay on the line (this option will be available) and speak to a call-handler. Alternatively, if you’re at your wits’ end, you can always contact us!
Vivian Linstrom, M&S Accountancy & Taxation