PAC claims HMRC’s customer service is sub-standard and suggests that late filing taxpayers should be pardoned.

If you want help to complete your tax return, or want answers to the questions you may have regarding late payments, who would be the first person you’d call? Well, obviously we always recommend an accountant, but it seems the simple answer for many is actually HM Revenues & Customs. The only problem is because of staff shortages and squeezed finances, getting answers to those questions is proving increasingly difficult. How bad is the problem? Well, according to a report by the Public Accountants Committee (PAC) the answer is very bad indeed: so bad in fact that the levels of customer service are bordering on ‘abysmal’.

So why has the Public Accounts Committee been so condemnatory? Well, information presented to the Committee showed that half of all calls placed to HMRC during the first 6 months of 2015 went unanswered with millions of people potentially filing their tax returns incorrectly due to a lack of guidance from HMRC’s call centres. Because of this poor record the PAC has therefore suggested that HM Revenues & Customs should consider pardoning or reducing penalties for taxpayers who filed returns late or filed incorrectly because their telephone calls went unanswered.

The PAC found that because of poor customer service many calling HMRC regarding their tax returns, PAYE slips and other financial documents have been increasingly left in the dark in 2015. There are also concerns that pensioners have been particularly impacted by the issue, as fewer of them have access to file their returns online and many of them have more complex tax arrangements.

John Pugh, a Liberal Democrats MP and long-standing member of the PAC, told The Telegraph:

“Apart from the sheer inefficiency involved, there is an underlying anxiety that millions of people are paying the wrong tax because they can’t get through to HMRC on the phone.”

“Online tax returns have their place, but at the end of the day people do have problems and queries that they need answered.”

“The tax system is very complicated and they need help.”

Should HMRC accept the PAC criticism and agree to pardon or reduce penalties for incorrect tax returns, the most likely beneficiaries will be those taxpayers who filed late or made minor errors. However, fines may still be issued in some cases – starting at £100 and escalating to £10-a-day after a three-month period. Moreover, any fines issued for ‘carelessness’ will still probably be levied at up to 30 per cent of any tax owed.

Speaking about the PAC’s criticism an HMRC spokesman commented:

“We work very much on a case-by-case basis but if you phoned us and couldn’t get through we would take that into account. If someone says they tried to call us we will take their word for it. We do not want to penalise anyone.”

“We know our customer service hasn’t been as good as it should be so we have moved a further 3,000 people into them and things are getting better. All this means no-one should get a penalty for missing the 31 January deadline, or for putting the wrong figures in their returns because of call waiting times.”

“A penalty for a return that was in on time would only apply for failing to take sufficient care to get it right.”

So where does the taxpayer now stand after the PAC’s damning comments? Well, the onus still remains very much on the taxpayer to ensure they organise their tax affairs properly and pay the correct amount of tax due. So if are worried about January’s looming tax return deadline, please contact Steven Glicher’s accountants for help and advice. We are in the best possible position to deal with any self-assessment worries you might have, leaving you free to concentrate on what you do best.

For more information contact Steven Glicher accountants on 0161 485 8007 or email info@stevenglicher.co.uk.

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