VIEW FROM THE HOUSE
There is nothing more frustrating than needing one key piece of information to complete a government form online, but not being able to get timely advice when it is required.
Unfortunately, this was the situation faced by many personal taxpayers in 2014-15, when HM Revenue and Customs implemented changes to their call centres.
The situation was highlighted in a report released in May by the National Audit Office, the body which monitors and evaluates the performance of public service departments, including the value for money of the services which are provided.
Personal taxpayers are those people who have to complete a self-assessment form and I know there are a lot of constituents in Chesham and Amersham who carry out this task for themselves.
One individual may be receiving letters from several different HMRC offices and it is not always easy to get an overview of how all the pieces of the tax jigsaw fit together.
HMRC, like all government departments, faces strict budgetary controls and in the long term they are providing far more services online and digitally. They thought that this would reduce the need for telephone advice, but the demand did not drop. In a nutshell, though, the National Audit Office said that HMRC “got their timing badly wrong” in 201415, by reducing the numbers of call centre advisers before they had tested their systems and before they had made sure that the new service was working reliably. In the words of the NAO report, “this led to a collapse in service quality.” This situation persisted through the first seven months of 2015-16 and, although thankfully things are now improving, the NAO warns that HMRC must make sure that any new systems are sufficiently robust to cope, with contingency plans. With more changes in prospect next year, it is essential that this happens. Personal taxpayers make a significant contribution to the taxes which are needed to pay for all the public services.
The NAO report points out that HMRC recognises taxpayers do not have a choice about whether to interact with them! While individuals are not ‘customers,’ there has to be trust and confidence, with acceptable ‘customer service’ standards.
CHERYL GILLAN MP for Chesham and Amersham