HMRC boss won’t rule out future phone line closures as it’s ‘part of strategy’


HMRC has been criticised for keeping customers waiting over 15 minutes when they call the helpline

Temi Laleye

By Temi Laleye

Published: 25/04/2024

- 15:17

HMRC halted its decision to close its tax return phone line for six months each year after a backlash from MPs and trade bodies

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has not ruled out following through with its initial plan to close self assessment tax return helplines for six months each year, the boss of the tax office has said.

Jim Harra, HMRC’s chief executive, could attempt to close its helplines again despite an outcry over previous plans.

In March, the tax office announced that from April 8 until September 29, taxpayers would have been unable to call HMRC for help with their self assessment tax return.

However less than 24 hours later, they made a drastic U-turn after backlash from MPs and trade bodies, who warned taxpayers could cause further problems for themselves.

Critics argued customers could fill in their tax returns wrong if forced to rely mainly on HMRC’s website for support because the helpline was closed.

Whilst these changes to helpline services have been halted for this year, the revenue said it will consider how best to help taxpayers harness online services.

Call line customer service agent

HMRC trialed a seasonal helpline closure in 2023


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They paused the plans in response to feedback and will engage with stakeholders about how to make sure taxpayer needs are met.

Responding to MPs, Harra described the previously planned helpline closure as part of HMRC’s “strategy”.

He said: “I am not saying we won’t return to this because it is part of our strategy and we do think it was effective last year.”

HMRC trialed a seasonal helpline closure in 2023 in preparation for the announcement in March to be made permanent.

Harra added: “I’m very disappointed that we have not been able to take what I regard as a modernising step at this point.”

HMRC has been criticised for keeping customers waiting over 15 minutes when they call the helpline.

Taxpayers have been forced to wait 24 minutes on average before they can speak to an adviser, according to latest figures.

Following the announcement to close helplines, trade bodies were concerned that the most vulnerable may find themselves left out and unable to get through to an agent.

However, Harra argued that these taxpayers would have found it easier to contact HMRC, had they proceeded with the seasonal closure.

He said: “There’s little doubt that if we had been able to proceed, the evidence from last year’s trials indicates that we would have been able to help more vulnerable and digitally excluded customers because the route through to an adviser for them would not have been blocked by other callers.”

Harra explained he did contact all the relevant trade bodies and stakeholders to inform them but the “strength of concern was greater than expected”, triggering the U-turn.


He continued: “I wasn’t surprised that stakeholders didn’t welcome the changes.

“I was disappointed that despite the work we had done the previous year that there was so much concern and doubt about whether they would work and whether we would be able to help customers effectively during it because I believe that we can.

“But we’re a public service and we have to recognise it’s not just us who sets the pace.”

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