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‘I’ve spent 24 hours on hold to HMRC’

HMRC
HMRC

Filing taxes is never as easy it as it should be. But this year has been so much worse. I’ve now calculated that I've spent 24 hours on hold to HM Revenue and Customs trying to sort out what should be a simple issue.

But it’s not just the long wait times that are frustrating. Unfortunately, it seems that once you’ve been on hold for exactly 74 minutes, an automated voice says: “Thanks for your call, goodbye,” and hangs up.

This happened to me three times in a 36-hour period.

And even if you’re lucky enough to speak to someone, another problem is being given the wrong advice.

Yet I’m not alone in being unable to get a response, let alone a right answer. Twitter shows hundreds of people complaining they’ve been stuck on hold for hours, and MPs have demanded answers from HMRC over phone line delays that are causing misery ahead of the January 31 tax return deadline.

HMRC's incompetence has serious implications for taxpayers like me. Anyone missing the return deadline is charged an immediate £100 fee. After three months, charges ramp up to £10 per day, and after six months it’s more.There are also late payment fees. Currently, 5pc of the tax outstanding after 30 days. Again, the costs rise after five months. You’ll also be charged interest on the balance at base rate plus 2.5pc.

The issue I’m trying to solve is that the calculation for my student loan payment is more than £1,000 greater than the total outstanding balance.

The first adviser I spoke to told me that three days after my return is filed, the Student Loans Company (SLC) would be able to see it and make a correction. This turned out to be false.

Another HMRC official said they’d put me on hold “for a second” while they investigated, but the call was disconnected. A third promised to call back, but never did.

Eventually, HMRC told me I’d need to send a written letter. At no point previously had anyone mentioned this. When I pointed out it would miss the deadline, I was told I could challenge any penalties later.

In the end, unwilling to risk late payment fees, I used my overdraft, to pay money that I don’t owe. I won’t get refunded until at least March, when HMRC tells SLC what I’ve paid.

The process has taken more than 24 hours, and I’ve only been able to dedicate that time because I’m self-employed. I’ve been juggling work, a six-month-old baby, and a phone permanently on hold.

This is only likely to get worse. By March 2023 there were over 4.2 million self-employed people who were required to file tax returns.

Anyone who earns over £100,000 must do one, and this figure hasn’t changed since 2012 meaning millions more people have been nudged over the threshold.

You also need to file if you rent out a property, earn an income from shares, or need to pay back child benefit.

HMRC says all callers who need to speak to an adviser can do so, but they may have to wait longer than usual, or call back.

My experience shows that many people will not be able to get through at all. The taxman has redeployed 850 staff and limited other services to focus on self-assessment calls, but this doesn’t seem to be making an impact.

An HMRC spokesman told me: “We encourage self-assessment customers to use our improved digital services which offer a quick and easy way to sort out more of their tax affairs online.”