HMRC blasted for call waiting times

HMRC has been blasted for the length of time that callers have to wait before they get through to someone on the organisation’s helpline numbers.

The Low Income Tax Group undertook a mystery shopping exercise of three HMRC helplines in the week after Easter — the first of the new tax year — and it revealed that each caller was kept on hold for an average of 30 minutes before it was answered. The group also said it had reports of member clients hanging on the phone for up to an hour.

It says that over recent years, HMRC has consistently failed to answer their telephone helplines within a reasonable time-scale. It points to the halcyon days of the Inland Revenue back in 1997/98 when it vowed to answer a call within 30 seconds 91% of the time.

But now, according to the LITRG, callers “can spend four times as much time pushing buttons before you even get in a queue”. It said the subsequent wait can then be excessively costly for callers on a low income, especially as many rely on PAYG mobiles.

It carried out its “mystery shop” on Tuesday 10 April 2012 and made three calls using the routes taken by an ordinary PAYE caller, a pensioner and a tax credit claimant. On average, the wait was 29 minutes. On a PAYG mobile that could have cost £11.60 per call, which could equate to half a day’s income for a pensioner.

An HMRC spokesman said: “HMRC handles around 60 million telephone calls every year. During busy periods, there will be times when customers will find it more difficult to get through. We are working hard to improve contact centre service levels and have made good progress. We are managing busy periods better by deploying extra people to deal with short-term increases in demand.”

He added that the week after Easter was an exceptionally busy week, and typical call volumes can vary from 750,000 to 1.7m in any given seven-day period, so it was “very hard to forecast”.

“We are sorry if anyone has been kept waiting, or could not get through over the last couple of days, but we are getting back on top of things”.

Further details of the mystery shop exercise can be found on the LITRG website

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