HMRC U-turns on plan to close self-assessment phone line after public outcry

Credit: PA

HM Revenue & Customs' has reversed plans to close self-assessment helpline services for six months a year after public outcry.

On Tuesday, HMRC had announced that from this year its self-assessment would be shut from between April and September, with customers directed to self-serve through its online services.

However, by Wednesday morning, the revenue body said it was halting the plans in response to feedback.

HMCR said it will now consider how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met while it continued to shift more people to online self-service in the longer term.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra: “Making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity.

“Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

“However the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

“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.”

HMRC said it will continue encouraging customers to self-serve where possible and access the information they need more quickly and easily by going online or to its app.

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Shortly before the u-turn from HMRC, The Telegraph reported that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt had ordered the tax office to scrap the plans.

MPs debated the decision by HMRC and the government's role in it on Wednesday.

Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury James Murray said "this is a u-turn of quite extraordinary speed and indignity.

"It is clear the announced closure of the helpline yesterday came not as part of a comprehensive, orderly or effective plan to help customers move online, but rather as a panicked response to HMRC's service levels collapsing to an all-time low.

"It is clear this government is fundamentally unstable and has given up on serious governing", he said.

MP Caroline Nokes said she spoke to elderly people who were "horrified" at the HMRC announcement on Tuesday, asking for reassurance that "vulnerable people" will still be able to use telephone services.

Chairwoman of the Treasury Select Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said on Tuesday that the move to online services should not be “forced on taxpayers”.

She said the revenue body has not yet demonstrated that the department or the public “are ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues”.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) previously described the plans as “misguided”.

Tina McKenzie, policy chairwoman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said on Tuesday that the plans would “be greeted with dismay by thousands of small businesses”.

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