HMRC’s chief executive, Jim Harra has told MPs he aims to cut the volume of phone calls to HMRC by nearly a third by the end of 2024. During a session with the Treasury Select Committee, Harriet Baldwin MP pointed out that there is a 5% reduction in customer service staff in HMRC’s annual report.
Jim Harra responded: Yes, that is correct. We are therefore not resourced to deliver our customer service standards through the traditional channels of phone and post, which is why our strategy is to reduce that contact demand and push as much of it as possible on to digital self-serve. We estimate that we need to reduce our contact demand by about 30% by the end of next year, compared with the 2021-22 baseline, to be able to hit our service standards with the reduced resources that we have.
He argued that many incoming calls could actually be dealt with online, which was one reason behind the 3-month closure of the self-assessment helpline earlier this year. At the time there was widespread surprise at the lack of communication about the change, with just two days notice being given. HMRC admitted that this short notice was not planned, and say the reason was due to consulting with internal stakeholders. HMRC’s board say they knew about the planned closure of the helpline in April 2023 but were unaware of the lack of notice given.
HMRC believe that the helpline closure was a success with customers being redirected online, and that it will enable them to trial seasonal working for some staff. Volunteers will work reduced hours in the summer, which are subsequently increased to deal with the January peak in demand for self-assessment support. HMRC staff opting to participate will receive a 1% pay rise in exchange for losing some of the flexible-working they currently have.