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Tax collection 'threatened' by poor customer service

By Vicky Shaw

The level of customer service provided by the tax office is now so unacceptably poor that it could be considered a "genuine threat to tax collection", the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)has found.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) answered only half of calls during the first half of 2015. It also managed to answer less than two in five (39%) calls within five minutes last year. HMRC's customer service has got worse since being described as "abysmal" two years ago, the committee said.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: "It beggars belief that, having made disappointing progress on tax evasion and avoidance, the taxman also seems incapable of running a satisfactory service for people trying to pay their fair share."

The PAC described HMRC's standard of customer service as "unacceptable". This was particularly concerning because people are more likely to pay the right tax when they find HMRC easy to deal with, it said.

In 2013, the committee previously considered that HMRC's target of answering 80% of telephone calls within five minutes was "woefully inadequate and unambitious" and recommended that the tax office should set a more challenging short-term target for call-waiting times and a long-term target that is much closer to industry standards.

The committee said that HMRC had not given any indication of when or by how much its customer service would get better, beyond a vague aim to improve year on year.

It said: "We are concerned that customer service levels are so bad that they are having an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues."

The PAC said the tax office should identify what impact its poor level of customer service is having on tax revenues and produce a detailed plan setting out how and when it will provide an acceptable level of customer service.

HMRC has said it plans to modernise the services it provides to its customers through the better use of technology, for example, by introducing an online renewals system for tax credits claimants.

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