MP's warn that HMRC Customer Service Staff cuts could hit quality – Again


A report has warned that the lack of any “convincing” fall-back plan to safeguard customer service as the tax authority undergoes “significant change” remains a “looming threat”.

Plans by HM Revenue & Customs to cut staff and move customer services online could lead to another potentially “disastrous decline” in quality, MPs have warned.
 
A report by the Commons public accounts committee indicated that the tax authority expects to employ 16% fewer staff and close 137 offices by 2021 in its bid to save £98 million. Its remaining workforce will largely be centralised into 13 regional centres. 
 
As part of the rationalisation process, customer service workers will be pruned by about a third. HMRC intends to automate most of its business processes and to refocus staff onto specialist work to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion.
 
“HMRC expects that, as it introduces more online services, a channel shift will occur resulting in a reduction in the demand for phone calls as more people will be able to meet their needs through online services,” the report said.
 
But the committee referred to the “collapse” of customer services during fiscal year 2014-15 after 5,600 staff were made redundant. It also highlighted an 18-month period where call waiting times tripled and some customers were kept on hold for up to an hour.
 
“HMRC is staking a great deal on the success of its plans to digitise the tax system, but once again it lacks an adequate plan if demand for its call centres does not reduce as quickly as it hopes,” the report warned.
 
Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier added that the lack of any “convincing” fall-back plan to safeguard customer service as the tax authority underwent “significant change” remained a “looming threat to its ability to collect tax from individuals simply trying to pay their fair share”.
 
As a result, she said the committee expected to see evidence by Spring that HMRC had “agreed measures with the Treasury to ensure it is not left playing catch-up at taxpayers’ expense”.
 
But a spokesman for HMRC said that the organisation now consistently answered 90% of incoming calls first time, on average in less than five minutes.
 
“We have invested heavily in customer services, recruiting more than 3,000 new staff, who are also available outside normal office hours when many of our
customers choose to call us,” he continued. “This is alongside a new range of popular digital channels for customers to get the information and support they need without having to pick up a phone or pen.”