Tax self-assessment: Thousands rushing to complete forms by Jan 31 deadline to be pushed to online services

Tax self-assessment: Thousands rushing to complete forms by Jan 31 deadline to be pushed to online services

Hundreds of thousands of people rushing to fill out their tax self-assessments are to be diverted away from speaking to call handlers to online services.

The powerful Treasury Commons committee criticised the lack of warning to the public of the change in policy which kicks in on Monday December 11.

They believe there should have been an earlier warning about the decision to scale back the capacity of the Self Assessment Helpline.

Jim Harra, chief executive at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), wrote to the committee confirming it will be directing more callers to online services so it can focus on ‘priority calls’ ahead of the filing deadline on 31 January.

But committee chair Harriett Baldwin MP pressed him on whether the move was linked to pent-up demand caused by the closure of the helpline over the summer.

She also demanded reassurances that the online services are easy to find and use and questioned why the public is receiving such short notice.

She said: “The Treasury Committee has repeatedly stressed our concern about the management of the Self As-sessment Helpline, particularly when it closed at such short notice over the summer leaving many struggling to access help with tax issues.

“Giving the public less than two working days’ notice of a significant reduction in service, while the deadline for Self Assessment returns looms, is yet another alarming development for an increasingly pressured government service. I have written to the CEO of HMRC in order to get much-needed an-swers about what this means for taxpayers.”

Mr Harra stressed that people with “suitable queries” would be direct to online services rather than call handlers.

How self-assessment queries are handled online

Examples of queries that can be resolved much quicker online include updating personal information, chasing on the progress of a SA registration, ending SA registration, and checking a Unique Taxpayer Reference number.

Self-assessment deadline brings increase in queries

Mr Harra explained that the run-up to the 31 January deadline is one of the busiest times of the year for us HMRC and its customers.

He added: “While around 97 per cent of our 12.5 million SA customers file their return and pay their tax online, 5.5 million of them ring our helpline with a query.

“Around two-thirds of calls to the SA helpline can be resolved far quicker through our online services.

“We are modernising the tax system to allow more customers to self-serve and access the information they need online. We are continuously expanding online and app services to enable customers to do this more and more.”

He also appeared to admit that the changes were partly due to financial constraints at HMRC.

“We also need to reduce the volume of contact through phone and post by at least 30 per cent by 2025 compared to 2021/22 in order to deliver our service standards with the resources we have.

“Therefore, we will increasingly expect customers to use our online services where they can.”

He insisted that satisfaction rates were above 80 per cent with HMRC online services which he described as “our best kept secret”.

He added: “Too many people still don’t realise they can resolve their queries quickly on or the HMRC app, at a time that is convenient to them.

“Instead they ring our helpline, spend their time waiting on hold, and then use our advisers’ time when that could be better used helping other customers with urgent queries that cannot be handled online.”

Calling the self-assessment helpline

From next week, callers to the self-assessment helpline whose query can “more quickly and easily be dealt with online” will be directed by an interactive voice response system and helpline advisers to the online services.

If online guidance and digital assistant don’t answer the customer’s query, they will still be able to discuss their query with an HMRC adviser on webchat.