The Treasury Committee's report into the administration and effectiveness of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has found there is considerable dissatisfaction among the public and tax professionals with the service provided by the Department. The committee is concerned that if this continues it may undermine respect for the tax system.
Following an inquiry by the Treasury Sub-Committee, the report identified serious concerns in a number of areas, including:
- Unacceptable difficulties contacting HMRC by phone during peak periods
- Endemic delays in responding to post
- An increasing focus on online communication that may exclude those without reliable internet access
The committee recognised that the Department performs a crucial role and operates under significant external pressures including continuing resource reductions, deficiencies in tax legislation and the legacy of the merger.
It acknowledged the commitment of management to tackling these problems and the dedication and professionalism of HMRC staff. However, it concluded that the Department has a difficult few years ahead of it, as it attempts to improve its service to taxpayers and benefits claimants, stabilise the PAYE system and introduce Real-time information.
The sub-committee is holding further hearings on HMRC's compliance work, and the committee may report on this later in the year.
The committee made recommendations in the following areas:
- Improving the service provided by contact centres, particularly in relation to escalating complex queries and providing alternatives to 0845 numbers
- Providing robust alternative to online contact, including more cost-effective ways of providing face-to-face advice
- Ensuring greater awareness of the impact of process changes on individuals and businesses, in particular recommending senior staff spend time with tax practices, charities and businesses
- Ensuring reductions in resources are managed in a way that is commensurate with the enabling IT and process improvements and minimises the loss of Departmental tax expertise
- Reviewing the division of responsibilities between HMRC and HM Treasury in relation to making tax policy, to ensure practical considerations are taken into account at the earliest possible stage
- Better targeting of letters that threaten serious consequences against individuals
- Having the National Audit Office externally audit preparations for Real-time Information, to ensure Ministers can be held accountable for progress against the Government’s ambitious timetable
- Examining how the Department can achieve better accountability around the settlement of large tax cases