We’ve already detailed how the department’s business plan for 2015/16, despite a nominal increase in headcount, is actually a blueprint for more cuts and casualisation. This includes a net drop in staff doing front line tax work, meaning that if you’re already fed up with waiting months for your post to be answered and hours to get through on the phone, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
As The Mirror reported on Sunday, only 37.9% of calls are answered within five minutes and people on average face forty or fifty minute waits until their call is answered. That is, if they’re not cut off before then.
Going deeper, the picture gets starker.
In Personal Tax, the latest performance results on the intranet are for January 2015. This month saw the Self Assessment deadline, and as a result staff from across the department pulled onto phones to make sure that the calls were answered.
The result? 65.4% of ‘call attempts handled.’ Not only does this not meet the target of 80% and not match up to December’s performance of 72.7%, but it says nothing about the level of service provided. A call attempt is ‘handled’ if it is answered – even if all the advisor can do is tell the taxpayer to put their query in writing.
But if they do write in, they’ll be waiting far longer. In January, the amount of post cleared within 15 days dropped from 83.6% the month before right down to 49.1%. With more of the sites working post putting staff onto calls, far from a blip during one peak this is set to be a regular feature of performance statistics. Especially as staff numbers in Personal Tax dwindle.
In Bootle, only staff working on bereavement post have so far escaped going onto the phones. The reason for this is simple; post dealing with the estates of the deceased currently faces an enormous backlog of post which can be up to four months old. Even other types of post deemed less of a priority can expect a turnaround of up to two months at the moment.
With HMRC shifting staff on the phones to meet call handling targets (and still failing at that), these backlogs are only set to increase.
This is without going into the extra work generated by the myriad of errors that the supposedly all-singing, all-dancing Real Time Information system has produced on taxpayers’ records including tax bills calculated on the basis of incorrect and/or duplicated pay and tax information.
This is the reality of the modern HMRC. It’s massively understaffed, and only set to get worse, with people phoning up because their letters go unanswered and writing in because they can’t get through on the phones. Far from being more efficient, or more focused on the ‘customer,’ it’s a shambles that’s bad for staff and taxpayers alike.