New SMS service launched on HMRC helplines

19 January, 2023

As of today (19 January), HMRC have launched a trial service on their main Self-Assessment (SA) helpline which will affect those dialling in from mobiles. To try and better manage the volume of calls in January, taxpayers identified as seeking help with specific queries which HMRC considers can be resolved online will be sent a text message containing relevant links.

We have shared the original message we received from HMRC regarding this change below. Following further discussions with HMRC, we can confirm that the queries where SMS messages will be sent are as follows.

  1. UTR queries– I’ve lost my UTR or how do I get a UTR
  2. Online services enquiries – I’ve lost my user ID/password or I need help enrolling for online services
  3. Self-assessment criteria – Should I be registered for SA or I don’t think I should be registered for SA anymore
  4. Employment history – I need a record of my income/employment details
  5. NINO – can you tell me my NINO
  6. Self-assessment help – I need help filling in my tax return

In cases (1) and (2), the SMS message will be issued mid-call and the call then terminated.

In cases (3) and (4), callers will be asked if they will accept an SMS – if so the call will be terminated. If the caller rejects the SMS offer, we presume that they can continue to hold to speak to an adviser.

In (4) and (5) the SMS will be issued, and the caller given time to engage with the SMS, before they can then terminate the call themselves or opt to continue to hold and be routed to an adviser.

We raised some concerns about whether some individuals in (1) and (2) who are digitally excluded or who are not able to pass ID verification to set up a Personal Tax Account might struggle if the system continually cuts them off. HMRC are aware that this is a risk, and advise that future upgrades to HMRC’s systems should detect repeat callers who have already had an SMS message.

The trial is due to run until April 2023.

HMRC’s Communications team provided the following message to us which we are sharing on their behalf:

We are trialling a new SMS service that will help customers quickly and easily get the information they’re looking for online. The trial comes after improvements to information and access to our digital services and builds on our digital and channel shift ambitions.   

“From 19 January SMSs will be sent to some customers who call our helplines from a mobile phone asking for help with a routine matter that would be better resolved if they used our digital services.  

"SMSs will automatically be triggered using the customers’ reason for calling and their message will include a direct link to relevant information. The SMS messages will be short and simple, and will not contain any personal or sensitive customer information.  The call will then be disconnected so that customers can follow the link and continue online.  

"Instances where SMS will be offered or sent are:   

  • find your Unique Taxpayer Reference  
  • help registering for HMRC online services  
  • lost or forgotten online service password or user ID  
  • queries on whether they should register for Self Assessment or still have to complete a tax return  
  • requests for income and employment history  
  • lost National Insurance number, or a letter confirming their number  
  • help filling in their tax return  

"Our SMS messages will be sent to customers while they’re on the call, providing them with instant information available online. SMSs are fast and convenient, with customers receiving the precise information they need to resolve their query.  

"Customers who self-serve using our digital services will save time and money by not having to wait on calls or for information to arrive in the post. Many of our customers will already be familiar with ‘SMS in calls’ technology as it’s widely used in the healthcare sector, finance, utilities and retail.     

"Redirecting customers to digital alternatives over the phone means our helpline advisers can better serve customers with more complex queries. HMRC receives millions of calls  a year from customers asking for basic information that many could have accessed digitally.  

"Transforming our digital services and improving customer experience is part of our ambition of being a trusted, modern tax department.   

"Customers who cannot use digital services will be able to get support in the normal way through our Extra Support Service or by calling our helplines."