A statement from The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts:
When people have no choice but to contact the Revenue to discuss their tax affairs, I find it totally unacceptable that HMRC uses costly 0845 numbers and charges people for the privilege of waiting for the Department to pick up. As the minutes tick by, the profits of HMRC’s phone service provider, Cable and Wireless, rack up as they pocket a proportion of customer call charges. Between April and September 2012, 6.5 million customers were left waiting more than 10 minutes before their call was answered. Sluggish performance amounted to a taxpayer telephone toll of £136 million in lost customer time and call charges in 2011-12. My concern is that the cost of hanging on the line hits those who call from a Pay-As-You-Go mobile the hardest.
Current call answering targets are far too soft and way below industry standards. In 2011-12, a staggering 20 million calls went unanswered and yet HMRC still managed to exceed its self-set target of answering just 58 per cent of calls. I am concerned that customers will continue to receive a substandard service in the years to come as HMRC’s 2014-15 targets are less demanding and cover fewer areas than other organisations.
HMRC needs to be far more ambitious in its efforts to improve the customer service it currently provides. Targets must better match those of other organisations to greatly reduce the time callers are left hanging on the line and it needs to provide alternatives to 0845 numbers. Customer service at HMRC has been too poor for too long. It needs to put in place a formal strategy for how it is going to make long term service improvements that centre on the needs of customers.
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