Responding to HMRC’s announcement of self-assessment helpline closure, ACCA have issued a statement on HMRC digital service plans.
Lloyd Powell, head of ACCA Cymru/Wales, said:
“ACCA has concerns on HMRC’s announcement on the self-assessment trial but is pleased HMRC is looking at all options to tackle the current poor performance.
“It is good to see HMRC being flexible and adaptable in trying to deal with the most urgent queries although taxpayers should be told of alternatives with the helpline shut. However, there’s tension between HMRC urging taxpayers to file their self-assessment tax returns early and closing one of the mechanisms for getting a resolution to complex queries; the January rush is a big part of why the SA (self-assessment) helpline gets more calls in Jan/April than June/August.
“It’s all very well picking the lowest demand point to force people onto a platform which many aren’t comfortable with, but not if you’re going to try to increase demand by encouraging early filing at the same time.
“HMRC will not be able to effectively measure the change in behaviour, as the alternative has been removed. What HMRC should be focusing on is the proportion of queries settled in one interaction, this is not currently good enough and the fear is that this may get worse.
“In closing the helpline HMRC has got to make it clear to taxpayers and their advisers what other routes are available for engagement between taxpayer and tax authority. For instance, how does a taxpayer cancel an incorrect notice to file?
“The tax authorities need to be clear on what the alternative routes can actually do. Too often, taxpayers and advisers are going around in circles. Using the helpline to speak to HMRC is usually the last resort for tax professionals. So, the alternative solutions need to provide a better service than most users currently experience.
“There is a concern that this move will just help HMRC keep up with the workload in revised benefit claims which is entering peak season, rather than address the significant backlogs which have built up.
“Taxpayers and their agents want and need to see an improved level of service in, for instance, VAT registrations which is now taking months instead of the one month that is expected. Addressing the backlog could see a reduction in demand for contact as users will no longer need to chase HMRC for a response.
“It would be helpful to have transparency to have sight of HMRC’s metrics and analysis to form a view on the success of the trial, understand the difficulties encountered and see what lessons could be learnt to replicate success.
“ACCA does recognise that HMRC is asking for engagement, and it is pleased to offer all the help and insight it can.”