In May 2016, the National Audit Office (NAO) published a report into the quality of HMRC service for personal taxpayers. The report highlighted serious shortcomings in the service which could have meant some taxpayers paying the wrong amount of tax.
In 2010, HMRC set out on a plan to reduce costs with a main focus on reducing the annual running costs of personal tax operations by £193m. As part of its charter, HMRC pledges to provide taxpayers with a helpful, efficient and effective service with an obligation to provide an acceptable standard of service. The NAO looked at whether HMRC managed to maintain this level of service whilst implementing their cost cutting changes.
The report found that up to 2013/14 HMRC succeeded in reducing costs by £111m but also maintained or improved their customer service performance. HMRC began introducing new digital services from 2011/12 and expected that this would reduce demand for contact with taxpayers so personal tax staff were cut by a quarter in 2014/15. But the fall in demand did not happen and HMRC did not have contingency plans to deal with the high levels of customer service requests.
To try and improve the service on the tax helpline, back-office staff were moved to call centres. These back-office staff had been maintaining PAYE tax records and investigating outstanding discrepancies in these records. The reduction in staff dealing with these reviews meant that the cases of outstanding discrepancies nearly doubled from 2.4m in March 2014 to 4.6m in March 2015. The NAO report highlighted that 3.2m of these were high priority cases which therefore meant there was a risk that these taxpayers would have paid the wrong amount of tax. The end result was that HMRC had to recruit 2,400 additional staff in the autumn of 2015.
HMRC are introducing more digital services in the next few years but the NAO report states that HMRC have learnt from their experiences of the past.
If we do not currently manage your personal tax affairs and you have had problems dealing with HMRC or believe that your tax may have been calculated incorrectly then please do not hesitate to get in touch.