In a recent announcement, HMRC disclosed that between December 11, 2023, and January 31, 2024, self-assessment (SA) queries easily resolvable online will be directed to HMRC’s online services. The communication highlights the utilisation of recorded messages supported by SMS texts, indicating an expansion of previous trials redirecting calls to SMS.


HMRC’s call-handling system will categorise calls based on the nature of the query. For SA filing, payments, and repayments, callers will receive messages nudging them towards online services, providing a “soft” deflect option. However, callers seeking assistance for other SA-related matters, such as updating personal information or checking a unique taxpayer reference (UTR) number, will experience a “hard” deflect, leading to termination. Ambiguous queries may be routed to an adviser for further assistance.

Online services encompass a variety of options, including HMRC’s digital assistant and web-chat accessible via the digital assistant. Taxpayers facing challenges with digital services are advised to contact HMRC’s online services help desk at 0300 200 3600, where calls can be routed directly to an SA adviser or HMRC’s extra support team.

However, certain aspects remain unclear, according to the ICAEW’s Tax Faculty:

  1. The handling of calls from landlines, considering text messages cannot be sent.
  2. The extent to which contact centre staff will redirect individuals to online services instead of providing assistance.
  3. Resolution procedures for queries without online services or those not functioning correctly, such as pending SA registrations, UTR issuance delays, ending SA registrations, and withdrawal requests for tax returns.

HMRC assures that services on the agent-dedicated line will mirror the self-assessment offer, with agents also directed to digital services for suitable queries.

During this period, the Agent Dedicated Line (ADL) will not handle any PAYE-related calls. Agents with PAYE queries can utilise HMRC’s digital assistant and web-chat, with an option to request a callback for “complex” PAYE issues.

Addressing concerns about meeting customer service targets, the Chancellor stated that discussions with HMRC’s head have reassured progress towards the targets. HMRC aims to shift 30% of phone and post demand to online services, aligning with its budget cut of £1billion for 2024/25. Caroline Miskin, Senior Technical Manager at ICAEW Tax Faculty, comments on the situation, stating that this move represents an extreme measure to transition from traditional channels to online services. She emphasises the need for more details, as taxpayers and agents may be left uncertain about query resolution methods, potentially experiencing declined adviser assistance and redirection to online services.

Should HMRC fail to achieve its online services shift, concerns are raised about a further decline in service levels, particularly as the Autumn Statement confirms budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. Many perceive this announcement as a partial closure of the self-assessment helpline during a critical period.

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