Standards at the tax office: A damning indictment from professional people who should know
This blog has covered serious complaints about the way Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is being managed - the latest being the revelations from the National Audit Office on plans to make 38,000 staff commute for hours to 13 new regional offices and close 170 existing ones.
Some of the strongest complaints have come from the staff and the main union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has been highly critical of government cuts. People might say, well, unions would complain, as they have duty to save jobs and how much notice should we take of this.
So it is extremely interesting that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, which represents some 147,000 professional people, has produced such a damning survey on what they think about HMRC's services.
Far from having confidence in the government's latest tax strategies or services they provide to business and the public, their findings in this year's services are damning.
To summarise from their report:
8 in 10 agents think that HMRC service standards have not improved over the past year.
Half of agents say that services over the past 12 months have not changed.
Nearly a third (32%) think that they have deteriorated.
Nearly a fifth (18%) think that they have improved
The results are fairly consistent over the different taxes.
Agents appear to have similar frustrations with HMRC’s service quality as last year, specifically around ‘getting it right first time’ and getting information they require.
Just a fifth of agents (20%) trust HMRC to ‘get it right first time’, while over a half do not (55%). Employer payroll is perceived particularly negatively, with two thirds (67%) not seeing HMRC staff in this area getting it right first time.
Similarly, less than a third (29%) of agents find it easy to get information they need from HMRC, while many (41%) do not.
And they are scathing about the government's plans to digitalise the tax services - part of the plan to close 170 offices - and have 13 regional centres.
Agents’ views on moving to digital
Only 3 in 10 (29%) of agents are positive about HMRC moving more of its services online.
Over half (53%) of agents are negative about moving services online.
Furthermore, only 15% of agents think that HMRC is supporting the role of tax agents in this move, while over half (54%) do not.
Frankly if I was in charge of HMRC ( and I am glad I am not) I would be rather worried by this survey. Since it came out it appears they have offered some talks about some of the problems,
But they are mainly very complacent. As the report itself notes :
"This result is all the more surprising given that HMRC’s own performance statistics to September 2016 show a steadily improving performance in the previous 12 months.
The difference, it suggests may be explained by a number of factors, including:
That although HMRC’s telephone service for the public is much improved, for agents the telephone response time is not the real problem. The service standard on the agent dedicated line is already good and usually agents using the line have not had a problem getting through to HMRC.
Agents by their nature deal with clients who have more complicated affairs, and for them the expectations of service quality are different to those of the wider taxpayer population. So, as in previous years, agents again highlighted the problems in ‘getting it right first time’, coupled with the ability to get through to speak to the right person quickly to resolve complex queries. We know that HMRC is working to improve performance in these areas, for example through the ‘once and done’ initiative, and the survey results suggest that HMRC should seek to build on this initiative.
There is also a perception effect: it can take years to change a perception even though standards may have improved in the interim. We believe that HMRC’s own research in earlier years would also appear to point to this effect."
However all in all this is a pretty resounding vote of no confidence in the tax service from a body whose members deal with them everyday.