Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - OPINION -

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

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