HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has reversed its decision to close its self-assessment telephone helpline for half of the year following a heavy backlash.

Initially, the tax authority announced plans on Tuesday to close the line between April and September, directing taxpayers to online services instead. However, less than a day later, it has announced that the phone line will remain open throughout the summer.

Jim Harra, HMRC’s chief executive, stated, “The pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.” He added, “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.”

Long waiting times on the phone to HMRC

HMRC has faced challenges with long telephone helpline waiting times and widespread criticism of its services. The initial announcement to close the helpline was met with immediate backlash from tax professionals and MPs.

More than 12 million people are required to complete self-assessment forms annually, with hundreds of thousands seeking assistance through phone calls.

Additionally, HMRC had intended to limit the opening hours of the VAT helpline and refuse calls regarding refunds to the PAYE helpline. However, these changes will also be halted.

The Treasury Committee, an influential group of MPs, welcomed the decision, stating, “We welcome the decision to reverse yesterday’s ill-advised announcement.” They added, “Questions still remain over the extent to which the department are prioritising its own needs over those of law-abiding and vulnerable taxpayers.”

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee recently highlighted the deteriorating customer service at HMRC, with nearly two-thirds of taxpayers waiting more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser. The committee’s report revealed an average wait time of 16 minutes and 24 seconds for calls to be answered, compared to 12 minutes and 22 seconds the previous year. The increasing complexity of tax affairs and rising number of taxpayers have strained HMRC’s customer service, leaving taxpayers frustrated with the quality of support provided.

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