HMRC failing to answer 12m tax inquiries

HM Revenue and Customs chief apologises to MPs after admitting one in four of its 50m calls a year were not being answered at ‘world’s largest virtual call centre’

HM Revenue and Customs is failing to answer a quarter of the 50m calls it receives a year, despite creating what it describes as possibly the biggest virtual call centre in the world, MPs have been told.

At its worst, between April and June, HMRC answered just 54-55% of calls from the public, Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC, told the Treasury select committee on Tuesday.

She said since then HMRC had created the largest virtual call centre in the world that enabled 20,000 HMRC staff to answer calls at any one time. As a result, about 76% of calls were being answered first time. But she admitted: “We were not serving to the level we would like to ... and we are very apologetic.” HMRC said it was recruiting a further 3,000 staff.

But MPs said the level of customer service at HMRC was unacceptable. Mark Garnier, Conservative MP for Wyre Forest, said: “If you were a commercial service you would go bust. You only continue to exist because people have to call you.”

Homer’s appearance before MPs follows a damning report by the public accounts committee, which found that HMRC was failing to answer calls while continuing to let corporate tax avoiders off lightly.

Homer said many of the calls were routine queries – such as asking for tax codes or updating tax credit statuses – which could be handled online, and that most people were able to speak to an adviser after two calls.

About £1.2bn was wrongly paid in tax credits due to fraud and error, HMRC said, but the figure was down by nearly half from peak levels. Homer said HMRC was making far more early interventions to proactively ensure individuals were paid the correct tax credits when their circumstances changed. Last year, HMRC made 2m interventions on tax credits compared with 123,000 in 2008.

HMRC told MPs the amount of uncollected tax in Britain was no worse than in many other countries. Edward Troup, HMRC’s tax assurance commissioner, told the committee the difference between the amount of tax collected and the amount owed was £34bn, or 6.6% of total revenue in 2012-13, which he claimed was broadly in line with other countries.

The tax gap had fallen from 8.4% in the past eight years, he added, bringing in an extra £57bn for the government.


Patrick Collinson

The GuardianTramp

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