One in four tax helpline calls unanswered

A quarter of all those who ring the taxman hang up in frustration as the average wait on the HM Revenue and Customs hotline hits five minutes.

Official figures have revealed that taxpayers are having to wait almost three times longer to contact HMRC than two years ago because of the increasingly “chaotic” service.

The figures show that taxpayers now have to wait an average of more than four minutes to speak on the phone to speak to an adviser, compared to one minute and 31 seconds in 2010.  At busy periods such as the run up to the end of the tax filing deadline in January, the average wait increased to more than five minutes.

HMRC has seen its budget and staffing levels fall since 2005 and now has 30,000 less staff than seven years ago. 

About one in four people are now hanging up before being connected to an HMRC adviser. MPs also claim that they are being contacted by an increasing number of individuals and businesses frustrated by the service.

The 0845 phone number offered by HMRC means calls are automatically answered within a few rings - meaning callers begin to be charged - but taxpayers have a range of options and often spend time on hold before they speak to an operator.

Labour has accused the service of being in “chaos” despite HMRC’s claims that it was “working” to reduce backlogs..

A damning report from a committee of MPs, recently accused tax inspectors of having an “unduly cosy” relationship with large firms.  MPs effectively accused the HMRC of double standards by treating ordinary workers and small firms less favourably than large companies.

Last night, a spokesman for HMRC said: “During busy periods, there will be times when customers find it more difficult to get through. We are working hard to improve contact centre service levels and have made good progress. We are managing busy periods better by deploying extra people to deal with short-term increases in demand.”

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