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HMRC Helplines

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2012

14. What the average waiting time for calls to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs helplines was in (a) the last 12 months and (b) the previous 12 months. (113590)

The average waiting time for a customer calling HMRC’s helplines in the past 12 months was four minutes and 19 seconds. In the preceding 12 months, it was four minutes and 13 seconds.

A constituent of mine has had a nightmare experience trying to get through to HMRC: he phoned several times throughout the week, but never spoke to an adviser and kept getting an engaged line. His is just one of many cases involving HMRC in my constituency office at the moment. With 10,000 HMRC staff being laid off, how do the Government hope to clamp down on tax avoidance when they obviously cannot collect taxes in the first place?

The first point to make is that the numbers of front-line staff dealing with tax avoidance and tax evasion are increasing over the course of this Parliament, in contrast with what happened during the last Parliament. There has been improvement in contact centre performance in the number of calls that get through, but more progress is needed. HMRC is deploying staff more flexibly and conducting small-scale pilots to see whether the private sector can provide additional capacity. HMRC is determined to improve performance.

My elderly constituent Mr George Robertson is concerned about the amount of money that has been wasted because of a catalogue of errors over two years by HMRC helplines and administration. They wrongly issued cheques for overpayments to Mr Robertson, despite his correctly informing them that, in fact, he owed money; and when the saga was eventually “resolved” in April, they got it wrong again. Will the Minister look into that case and the wider lessons that need to be learned, so that HMRC becomes more accurate and cost-efficient?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and I am happy to look into the case. HMRC’s record in dealing with end-of-year reconciliations and improving accuracy is moving in the right direction, but there is more to do.