08 November 2023
When questioned by the Treasury Committee on the reasons for suddenly shutting the self-assessment helpline over the summer, HMRC outlined that it was ‘vital that those customers that can go online do so’. Rather than having staff on the phone lines, HMRC sought to meet taxpayer demands through its digital services and ‘webchat’ facilities, in part to focus on the ‘need to improve overall customer service levels’.
Well the results are, and based on its latest performance statistics which cover the summer period up to the end of September 2023, it seems fair to say there is still some work to do.
As expected, the number of webchat enquiries received by HMRC increased dramatically this summer (July 2023 to the end of September 2023) compared to the same period the year before. This year that number totalled 360,544 compared to 118,976 last year - over three times the amount. So, from that perspective, HMRC may perceive this as a success in driving more customers to using its digital services.
How did taxpayers respond to the change in service? Well from exceeding its target of 80% customer satisfaction for its phone, webchat and digital services in July 2023, this slid suddenly in 77.7% in August 2023, recovering slightly to 78% in September 2023.
Unsurprisingly, this was largely driven by a significant slide in the satisfaction of taxpayers with HMRC’s support on phone lines. The levels of satisfaction were already low in July 2023 at 44.5% and fell to 42.5% in August 2023, with a small increase to 44% in September 2023. In contrast, the customer satisfaction results for digital and webchat services were broadly similar over the period.
There were around 8.99m calls received from taxpayers in the three months to 30 September 2023 (compared to 9.14m calls received the year before). As expected, with the self-assessment phone line shut down over the summer, the number of taxpayer calls handled by advisers was significantly lower. In new statistics published this year, we can see that around 4.1m calls in the three months to 30 September 2023 were handled by HMRC advisers, around 46% of calls received. In contrast, around 3.1m calls were dealt with by automated systems, approximately 34%.
HMRC will be formally evaluating this year’s pilot of the seasonal telephony model for self-assessment taxpayers and, whilst it remains resource constrained, we expect it to continue to push for this in future years. However, on the face of it, there is still huge demand from taxpayers for telephone support and they appear to be deeply dissatisfied with the support they’ve received. That could result in taxpayers simply giving up trying to deal with the tax affairs earlier in the year and compound the difficulties and demands HMRC faces over the busy winter period.