The personal touch

17 September 2015

Andrew Hubbard

A recent survey carried out by HMRC has revealed that 87 per cent of the customers that took part, described their experience of dealing with the taxman as good or very good. So who are these people? The answer may just surprise you…

Here’s a statistic which may surprise you: 87 per cent of customer described their experience of dealing with HMRC as good or very good.

Given all of the publicity about poor HMRC service, you may wonder whether somebody has made the number up? But no, it is a genuine statistic coming from a reputable independent survey. What I have not revealed is the sample population…

The 87 per cent is the figure for the largest companies, dealt with by HMRC’s large business service where there is a dedicated customer relationship manager (CRM) with HMRC responsible for each company. Significantly, the figures drop to 68 per cent for companies dealt with by HMRC local offices where there is no CRM – simply an assigned point of contact. Those are still large companies by any measure (the survey only covered the 10,000 largest companies), but even within this limited population it is clear that a direct relationship with a named individual in HMRC is by far the best way of achieving a positive working relationship. This should come as no surprise.

The issue is of course that the vast majority of taxpayers (individuals and businesses) don’t have this personal relationship. All too often taxpayers struggle to find an individual within HMRC to take responsibility for their particular question or problem. Now it is clearly impossible for every taxpayer to have their own dedicated HMRC officer – resources don’t allow this and I suspect that many people would not want it – but taxpayers deserve personal service from HMRC when they need it. 

Yet again we come back to the digital strategy. If it all works out – and I remain an optimist – then much of the routine admin of the tax system will become automated, and HMRC staff will be able to spend their time giving a quality service to taxpayers rather than simply processing paper: I know that many of HMRC’s staff want to deliver that service. But that ‘if’ hangs in the air. If it all goes wrong then service levels will get worse...

So let me leave you with a thought - who is more in need of a personal relationship with HRMC? A large multinational with its own tax and finance department and a team of professional advisers, or a widow in her 80s with poor eyesight struggling to cope with HMRC forms which she can hardly read and which might be written in Martian for all the sense they make? 

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