A number of red old-fashioned phone handsets are dangling by their wires against a grey backdrop

HMRC’s digital offerings “not up to scratch”, ATT warns

19 March, 2024

The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) says HMRC’s digital provision is “not up to scratch”, after the tax office announced it would be closing or restricting a number of taxpayer helplines.

Today’s announcement1 confirmed that the self assessment helpline will be shut between 8 April and 30 September, with only priority queries dealt with between October and March, while the line for PAYE enquiries will no longer take calls from customers relating to refunds.

While the helpline for tax agents is unaffected, the ATT warned that, while digital platforms such as webchat remain below par, closing helplines will not help taxpayers or their agents.

Senga Prior, Chair of the ATT Technical Steering Group, said: 

“Today’s announcement is the third time HMRC phone lines have been closed or restricted in the last year and comes less than three months after the Self-Assessment helpline was limited to ‘priority queries’ in the build-up to tax return deadline.

“We are pleased that the Agent Dedicated Line appears not to be affected by these changes, however agents are still reporting to us long wait times, promises of call backs not being kept, and frequent examples of inadequate guidance and sessions being disconnected prematurely when they try to use webchat.

“While we support HMRC’s ambition to push more taxpayers towards digital platforms, from the perspective of agents, the current digital provision is not up to scratch. If agents could do more online, it might help to free up phone resource for unrepresented individuals who are not able to transact online.”

HMRC also announced that the VAT helpline will be permanently closed for all but the five days in the lead up to the return deadline each month, with the ATT raising concerns over how this will affect compliance.

Senga Prior added:

“Some of the decisions in today’s announcement are baffling, particularly the closure of the VAT helpline for all but the five days running up to the filing deadline each month. This is effectively encouraging taxpayers to leave their VAT tax compliance until the last minute, and flies in the face of HMRC’s previous work to promote early filing.

“Should HMRC go ahead with these measures, we urge them to monitor and publish information on the impact this has on the accuracy and timeliness of filing.”

Notes for editors:

  1. HMRC encourages customers to interact online with changes to its Self Assessment, PAYE and VAT services (HMRC press release, 19 March 2024).