Press release: ATT backs MPs’ concerns about HMRC’s service to taxpayers

The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) shares the Public Accounts Committee’s concerns about HMRC’s ability to deliver good customer service in the future.

The Committee outlined its concerns for customer service, in its report on HMRC’s Performance 2016/17.

Yvette Nunn, Co-chair of ATT’s Technical Steering Group, said:

“We share the PAC’s concerns about the additional pressures facing HMRC and the risk that this may negatively impact on taxpayers’ dealings with them. We believe that the situation will only become more challenging for the tax authority and taxpayers alike, with the upcoming introduction of Making Tax Digital (MTD). We strongly urge HMRC to retain the levels of telephone support for taxpayers until MTD has been established.”

Brexit will cause a major strain for HMRC, as will the introduction of MTD for VAT, which coincides with Brexit in April 2019.

On the report’s concerns about the levels of customer service, Yvette Nunn said:

“We agree it would be preferable, where possible, for individuals to self-serve online but this is not always possible because the complexity of tax means there will always be times when an individual needs to speak to HMRC. HMRC need to realise that automated messages are a source of frustration, by making it hard to speak to someone they increase the risk of taxpayers guessing the answer and getting it wrong.

“There are serious concerns as to whether HMRC’s digital infrastructure can cope today. We have already seen unexpected system failures during the busy Self-Assessment tax season in January 2018, as well as delays in giving agents access to the Trust Registration Service.

“The PAC notes that HMRC’s original assumptions on the extent to which customer demand could be reduced were too aggressive in the past – there are concerns this could be the case for the introduction of MTD also. Taxpayers are likely to need significant support when MTD is first introduced. We suggest it is unlikely to result in a lack of demand for phone calls in the short term, at least.”

On the higher proportion of the Tax Gap due to SMEs than larger companies, outlined in the report, Yvette Nunn said:

“While the SME Tax Gap is stated to result from errors or a failure to take reasonable care, the complexity of the tax system is likely also to be a contributory factor. Errors resulting from a failure of small businesses to deal with complexity could increase if HMRC struggles to maintain service standards in the future.

“There is a risk that focusing on the SME sector will cause them to feel victimised, which may push them more towards the hidden economy. MTD may reduce errors but this may have a negligible impact on those businesses and individuals in the hidden economy who deliberately evade tax by operating under the radar, for instance, not registering with HMRC, or under-declaring their income.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Public Accounts Committee website can be found here.
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