1000 more staff to man tax helplines - but one in ten calls still won't get through

The taxman is to invest an extra £34 million and recruit up to 1,000 more call centre staff.

HM Revenue & Customs had originally set a target that by 2015 it would answer nine out of ten of the calls it receives. Now it wants to bring this forward to next March.

Money Mail has repeatedly highlighted problems with HMRC’s call centres after thousands couldn’t get through after receiving shock bills.

Getting through: HMRC forks out £34 million on 1000 extra call centre staff in an effort to answer more calls

Getting through: HMRC forks out £34 million on 1000 extra call centre staff in an effort to answer more calls

In 2010/11, HMRC’s helpline answered fewer than half of calls. In 2011/12, that has risen to 74 per cent.

The Treasury Select Committee called on HMRC to increase the number of inquiries it handles.



‘The feedback we get is that the quality of the advice we give when people get through is good, but we haven’t been answering enough calls,’ says Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC. 

She says the investment could drastically reduce waiting times, which have also frustrated callers. HMRC acknowledged it can struggle to cope with a surge in calls when customers file their self-assessment returns and renew their tax credits.

‘Though there has been an improvement in contact centre performance over the past couple of years, too many callers have faced unacceptable delays in getting through,’ says David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

Fines for late tax returns issued

Around half a million people who have yet to file their tax returns face the biggest fines ever issued by HMRC.

From this week, many will receive letters outlining a range of new daily penalties — up to £900, plus a further £300 or 5 per cent of the tax due, whichever is higher. 

The introduction of these strict charges has led to a significant drop in late returns. The taxman has issued 518,000 fewer penalties this year.

Those fined can appeal to HMRC if they believe they had a reasonable excuse for not filing or think they aren’t eligible for self-assessment.