HMRC leaves taxpayers waiting on phone line for 23 minutes just to speak to staff

Man on phone

Britons have been left waiting more than 20 minutes before they can speak to a HMRC advisor

Temi Laleye

By Temi Laleye

Published: 15/05/2024

- 00:01

Updated: 15/05/2024

- 07:02

Although the total number of telephone calls to HMRC has reduced, the total amount of time advisers spend on each call has increased

Britons have been left waiting more than 20 minutes before they can speak to an advisor from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

The average phone line wait time hit nearly 23 minutes in the first 11 months of 2023/24, up from five minutes in 2018-19, according to a new National Audit Office (NAO) report on the tax collector’s customer service.

In 2022/23, Britons cumulatively spent 798 years on hold waiting to speak to HMRC, more than double the time spent in 2019/20.

As the call load remains high, HMRC has not been able to go ahead with the staff reductions it had initially planned.

Due to budgetary constraints**, it needed** to cut staff numbers by 14 per cent in 2024-25, despite only achieving a nine per cent reduction between 2019-20 and 2023-24.

However, ahead of the report being publicly released today, HM Treasury yesterday announced £52million of extra funding to bring the department’s performance up to target.

Man on phone

Taxpayers will spend less time waiting on the phone and managing their tax affairs


The revenue had hoped their new digital services would reduce certain pressures from their customer service team, however this was not the case.

The quality of service provided by HMRC telephone and correspondence has been far below the levels expected in recent years and has not met annual targets, the report found.

They are not expecting to meet its telephone performance target in 2024/2025 and it is unclear what level of service customers should expect

HMRC’s digital service is intended to encourage customers to check online first when they have a query rather than calling up straight away.

With more people checking online for solutions first, the Revenue are hoping this would cut the costs of servicing telephone calls and correspondence, as well as free up staff to serve people who need extra support.

The department says digital services are better suited for straightforward queries and reporting changes in customers’ circumstances.

However, the NAO said HMRC has not yet done enough to raise awareness of its digital services, increase customers’ confidence in using its online offering or understand how effectively these services meet customers’ needs.

It recommends that HMRC develops more realistic plans for cutting the services it is replacing with digital channels and adopts a more customer-focused approach to encourage the take-up of new services.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “HMRC’s telephone and correspondence services have been below its target service levels for too long.

“While many of its digital services work well, they have not made enough of a difference to customers, some of whom have been caught in a declining spiral of service pressures and cuts. HMRC has also not achieved planned efficiencies.

“HMRC must allow more time for these services to bed in and understand the difference they make before adjusting staffing levels.”

In March 2024, HMRC announced that it would restrict a number of its helplines, including closing its Self Assessment helpline for six month, however HMRC reversed its decision after backlash from the public.

The department had trialed closing and restricting helplines in 2023, but its evaluation of these changes did not consider stakeholder views or adequately assess the impacts of the changes on customers.

A HMRC spokesperson said: “While customer service standards on our phone lines are still not where we want them to be, we’re making strong progress in our efforts to improve our customer service and additional funding has been confirmed by the government this week.

“Millions more people used our highly-rated online services last year - saving them waiting on the phone and freeing up our advisors to deal with those people who need extra support. We continue to encourage people to deal with us online or via the app where they can, and we are working to provide even better, easier and always-available online services. But, as we have recognised, these changes need to happen at a speed and in ways that our customers are comfortable with.”

You may like