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HMRC Halts Helpline Cuts After Public Backlash

Jim Harra of the HMRC admits shutting down the HMRC helplines was too much too fast for many people
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HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) announced a U-turn on its plans to restrict access to phone helplines, following criticism from taxpayers and businesses.

The initial plan involved closing the Self Assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines for six months, from April to September. This move aimed to encourage a shift towards online self-service options.

However, the proposal sparked concern, particularly among those who lack digital access or require more complex support, like those contractors who are applying for IR35-related tax refunds, as reported by The Freelance Informer.

HMRC Chief Executive, Jim Harra, acknowledged the need for a more measured approach within just 24 hours after the HMRC announced its plans to cut the helplines for nearly half of the year:

Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

However the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.

The focus on online services remains, with HMRC highlighting the high satisfaction ratings (over 80%) for existing online tools. These include written guides, webinars, YouTube videos, and a digital assistant accessible 24/7 through the HMRC app, which boasts a 4.8-star rating on the App Store.

This news will be welcomed by many who rely on phone support for navigating tax affairs. However, it’s clear HMRC is still committed to promoting online self-service as a long-term goal.

Commenting on HMRC’s change of heart, Seb Maley, CEO of Qdos – a tax insurance provider – said, “HMRC’s announcement about the closure of the self-assessment helpline came out of the blue and would have impacted millions of self-employed workers – so it’s good to see that the tax office has decided to pause its plans for now.

I’m not sure how these plans reached this point to begin with, though – closing the helplines wouldn’t have been at all helpful. The tax system is complex at the best of times, while HMRC has no hesitation in scrutinising and penalising mistakes. 

Seb Maley, CEO of Qdos

“While HMRC recognises that its plans need to match the public appetite for change, this rather embarrassing U-turn will raise some questions about how credible the plans were in the first place.” 

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