The first thing to note is that it only applies to individuals, and there is no equivalent for corporation tax or trust queries. There is no indication whether the facility will be extended to these work streams in future.
So how long will it take to deal with your correspondence? As with all things tax, it depends on several factors, including whether it is a repayment claim or general correspondence, whether it was submitted online or by letter and whether it relates to Income Tax, Self-Assessment or Tax Credits.
We found some shocking results:
The expected response date depends upon the method used to contact HMRC. This can be seen if you put details in for an income tax repayment where an online application has been made compared to a paper return or a letter requesting a repayment.
The online application shows a same day response which presumes the repayment will be issued as soon as the return is processed online. The paper return shows a 147 day or 21 weeks response date, while the letter shows an expected response date of 203 days or 29 weeks.
This enormous disparity raises important questions:
Firstly, the timescale clearly favours those who have the capability to use the online facility over those who use the more traditional method of pen and paper. This must raise the question of how this preferential time treatment sits with the digitally excluded? This will include a large proportion of the pensioner population, who claim annual repayments, and the delays they will experience will be through no fault of their own.
The second point is how does this timescale fit with HMRC’s expectations of taxpayers, for example HMRC’s response deadline dates for enquiries into these same returns? These requires a response within 30 days, irrespective of the method of submission. If this is not adhered to, a formal request for the information is made with a further 30 days to respond or the taxpayer is automatically into a penalty position for failure to meet deadlines.
It appears to be a case of one rule for the taxpayer and another for HMRC.
It is shocking that such huge response times are being normalised. It has been clear for some time that HMRC is under resourced, but a wait of over six months for a repayment to be dealt with is unacceptable by any standards.