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Can’t get in touch with HMRC? Waiting times are so high that HMRC scraps targets

2-minute read

Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

21 September 2021

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Ahead of the tax registration deadline on 5 October and the paper tax return deadline on 31 October, HMRC’s most recent performance data suggests that it’s struggling to give taxpayers prompt service.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) says that its members are continuing to “report poor experiences in telephone and post handling” – here’s why HMRC’s service is under strain.

HMRC’s service improves in April to June (but only just)

The Telegraph reported in July that in March 2021, taxpayers waited almost 20 minutes to get through to HMRC. This was three times worse than call waiting times in the same period last year – and "the worst they have been throughout the entire coronavirus crisis".

HMRC’s average call waiting time from January to March 2021 was 15 minutes 23 seconds. The Telegraph said that service levels were so bad that HMRC scrapped its targets for the year (it previously aimed to respond to calls within five minutes).

HMRC’s average call waiting time did improve slightly to 13 minutes 38 seconds from April to June 2021, with waiting times reducing by more than half from 19 minutes 25 seconds in April to 8 minutes 45 seconds by the end of June.

But the ICAEW says that 5,000 HMRC staff have been diverted from other helplines (including PAYE and Self Assessment) to the Covid-19 helpline. As this helpline is experiencing better service levels, the ICAEW says that this explains why its members’ experience of using other helplines “is much worse than the headline numbers quoted”.

What about HMRC’s service by post?

HMRC’s performance data from April to June 2021 shows that it managed to respond to just 35 per cent of written contact within 15 days. The ICAEW reports that this is worse than throughout 2020-2021 and that its members are experiencing “extreme” delays.

While HMRC says that these delays are due to dealing with extra post related to repayments and other Covid-19 issues (as well as claims for working from home expenses), the ICAEW is pushing HMRC to make further improvements across all of its services.

Helping taxpayers as we emerge from the pandemic

HMRC will be restarting debt enforcement activity from September, saying it “will continue to carry out this work in a way that is sensitive to customers’ altered needs and capabilities”.

HMRC is keen to stress that if you can pay your taxes, you should – but if you’re struggling, it’s best to work with them to come up with a plan for repayments.

We’ve got a number of guides to help you with your taxes:

Have you had trouble trying to get in touch with HMRC? Let us know in the comments below.

Photograph 1: Rido/

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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