Over a third of callers to HMRC helplines are waiting 10 or more minutes for their call to be answered, according to the latest HMRC Contact Centres survey report.

Overall, the median waiting time is around four minutes. But the number of callers waiting 10 minutes or more increased on last year to 35% of the total.

The two best helplines in all areas – including answer time, level of adviser knowledge, etc – were the child benefit and national insurance lines.

In addition, Business tax helplines were quicker than average to get through to than the others.

Overall, HMRC said there wasn’t a significant change between this year’s and last year’s figures. Over 80% of callers rated their experience as very or fairly good this year, with two-fifths of callers finding it ‘better than expected’. The worst were reported to be the VAT and VAT online helplines, which achieved a satisfactory rating of 72% this year compared to 86% last year according to the results based on calls from April 2013 to March 2014.

HMRC Calls 2010-14However a look back at the crucial call waiting times since the survey began in 2010-11 suggests that the department is struggling to keep up with the tide of telephone enquiries. The percentage of calls answered within 3mins dropped from 49% in 2010-11 to 35% in 2013-14, while 4min+ waiting times rose from 47% to 60% in the same period (see right).

When they did get through to an adviser 83% of respondents said the amount of times they spoke to an adviser about their issue was acceptable, and 94% thought an adviser had treated them well.

Even though most had a good overall experience, two-thirds of callers felt improvements were needed. These included:

  • Improve time taken to get through (32%)
  • Have more knowledgeable staff (14%)
  • Have the automated messages removed (10%).

Despite being quicker than average to get through to, the business tax helplines this year callers surveyed were “significantly less likely” to rate their experience positively compared to last year.

Most callers only needed to speak to HMRC once about their issue. But for those who needed to call back gave a number of reasons, including the complexity of their issue or situation, callers not having the required information, and a lack of response from the Revenue.

And while most callers found the number of times they spoke with an adviser acceptable, HMRC said the number of people who had to make multiple calls because of a mistake by the Revenue unacceptable.

Based on the results, HMRC identified key areas for improvement, including “focusing on the reducing the number of mistakes” and getting things right first time, which should improve overall satisfaction levels.

The survey was brought in four years ago in response to criticisms from politicians and the accounting profession about service levels and call handling response times and quality. In 2012, HMRC stalled its continuing programme of cutbacks to recruit an extra 1,000 call centre staff. It was a welcome move, but one that has not so far appeared to improve its performance.

Baker Tilly tax partner Andrew Hubbard, said it will be interesting to see how future statistics will reflect the shift toward HMRC’s ‘digital agenda’.

“My first thought is to remind myself of the scale of this. It’s 73m calls a year. One of the reason for driving the Revenue’s digital agenda is that they very much hope that a lot of the stuff that’s currently done through call centres will be done over time online. I think that will be part of the Revenue use this sort of information,” he said.

But on the statistics themselves, Hubbard said there was no dramatic conclusions.

“There are some positives – the satisfaction level is high, and a lot of people are reporting that it was a better experience than they thought it was going to be. I suppose this is partly because publicity around this was so bad that some people are delighted to get through at all.

Story from AccountingWeb