Major concerns highlighted by latest survey
We are extremely concerned that overall service standards seem to continue to fall. Following complaints about poor service from HMRC by our members, we have been using an annual survey to monitor the position.
We previously carried out surveys in 2007 and 2009 and the results of the 2010 survey, are now published as TAXREP 43/10.
We have shared the results with HMRC and will also be using it as part of our evidence to the 2010 Treasury Select Committee Inquiry into administration and effectiveness of HMRC.
The major points raised in the published survey results are:
- HMRC acknowledges that tax agents are an essential part of the UK tax system. Our members, through their expertise and the multiplier effect (each member in practice acts for many individual client taxpayers), provide a valuable resource to assist tax compliance and tax gathering for a large proportion of UK taxpayers at no direct cost to government. It follows that given this vital role, they need to be able to communicate with HMRC easily, efficiently and reliably.
- We are very concerned that overall service standards have fallen steadily as HMRC continues to seek to reduce its costs and improve its efficiency in line with the department’s budget allocation. We continue to question whether HMRC can meet its aspiration to “provide an increasingly efficient and high quality service” while reducing staff numbers: the evidence from our survey and elsewhere reinforces our concerns.
- Three particular areas that our survey highlighted upon which HMRC should concentrate resources to help improve overall service standards are:
- better trained staff;
- nominated staff having ownership of problems; and
- e-mail access to HMRC.
- Communicating with HMRC is one of the biggest problems for agents. It is difficult to get through on the telephone, the people answering the phones have insufficient knowledge to be able to resolve queries, promised call backs do not happen and letters remain unanswered.
- We have asked our members each year how they would prefer to be able to communicate with HMRC given a choice between telephone, post, email and online. In this year’s survey, email is once again the most popular choice. This is not surprising since in the past 10 years email has become the standard tool used by businesses to communicate. In addition to speed and ease of use, it provides an audit trail and the ability for automatic acknowledgement by the recipient.
- There have been discussions between HMRC and the professional bodies to explore using email but there are still significant problems to overcome. We urge HMRC to speed up this project and make a start in email communication as we believe it is essential step in effecting improvements in service standards. HMRC needs to make available email tools such as structured email and to at least accept inbound email as an alternative to post wherever possible. This has the potential to increase efficiency and save costs for agents, their clients and HMRC.
- More generally, HMRC needs to make better use of technology. Improving HMRC’s services to agents through further expansion of e-services was a key recommendation of National Audit Office Report ‘Engaging with tax agents’ which was published on 13 October 2010. We appreciate that this comes at a cost. HMRC has invested heavily in new IT in recent years and needs to continue to do so. HMRC is a revenue collecting Government Department and needs resources to develop modern means to do this efficiently. Well targeted investment in improved IT systems could produce substantial savings in the medium to longer term to support the ambitious budget reduction targets that HMRC has been set.’