Research by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found that HMRC responded to only 72.5% of telephone calls in 2014-15. That has now fallen to 50% in the first half of this year.
If you do manage to get through to the tax office, you're likely to be kept waiting an unreasonable amount of time before you speak to an adviser; the report states that less than 40% of calls were answered within five minutes.
“HMRC must… rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse – to the extent it could be considered a genuine threat to tax collection,” said the PAC’s chairman, Meg Hillier.
“It beggars belief that, having made disappointing progress on tax evasion and avoidance, the taxman also seems incapable of running a satisfactory service for people trying to pay their fair share.”
More people are likely to pay the right tax when they find HMRC helpful and easy to deal with, the PAC added. With so few people able to speak to the tax office, it raises the question of whether many people are actually paying the right amount of tax.
Back in June HMRC announced that is was setting aside £45 million to improve customer service. The PAC now wants the tax office to produce a detailed plan explaining how it intends to make the service better.
Tax Avoiders Taking Advantage
According to the report, the majority of people are paying their tax, yet many struggle to get hold of HMRC to discuss their tax payments, and rich tax avoiders are “running rings around the taxman”.
The tax office has failed to combat offshore tax evasion, with only 11 prosecutions since 2010.
“We are deeply disappointed at the low number of prosecutions by HMRC for tax evasion,” said Hillier. “We believe it’s important for HMRC to send a clear message to those who seek to evade tax that the penalties will be severe and public.”
The report added that there was a secondary tax avoidance issue due to schemes “operating legally but gaining advantages never intended by Parliament”.
HMRC has also failed to report on the scale of aggressive tax avoidance meaning Parliament “cannot assess whether tax law is working as intended”.