Saturday, 16 October 2010

Fun with HMRC's Online Services Helpdesk

I went through the authorisation process to act for a new client, which involves entering the client's Universal Tax Reference and post code on-line, following which the client is sent an Authentication Code which he or she gives to the agent. We agents enter this code and HMRC will talk to us about the client.

I duly completed this process for a new client, but the client did not appear on my on-line list of clients on HMRC's website. I called the on-line help desk and hung on for ages (well, twelve minutes) listening to their muzak before giving up and sending an email

“We gained authorisation as agent for this client two weeks ago via the on-line procedure but he does not appear on our on-line list in the agent’s pages on the website. Could you please investigate this and append his details to our list?

Please advise when this has been done.

Thanks and regards”

Their reply:

“Dear Mr Jon Stow
Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately we need more information to progress your enquiry. Please contact the Helpdesk on 0845 60 55 999 and have to hand your Agent Code and access to a computer. Then one of our advisors will be able to assist you further.
For security reasons specific personal data may have been removed from this email.

Online Services Helpdesk”

I responded, a little irritated I admit:

“I will telephone later, but only emailed you after hanging on for 12 minutes on the telephone this morning waiting in vain to be dealt with. Can't you call me?”

Their response:

“Dear Jon Stow
Thank you for your email.

We are unable to arrange a call back, we have all advisors on incoming calls to ensure we answer as many calls as possible.

For security reasons specific personal data may have been removed from this email.

Online Services Helpdesk”

Well, firstly they may be answering as many calls as possible but clearly there are many they are not answering, including mine. Secondly, in the time it took to reply to two emails, or even only to the second one, surely they could have picked up the phone and talked to me?

HMRC are so useless and inflexible in communication now at every level. Wholesale cuts appear to have been as much at the expense of common sense as money, but no matter how much agents and taxpayers keep pointing this out, and despite initiatives such as Working Together, HMRC's meetings with tax and accountancy professionals, where it matters no one is listening; apparently not even their head honcho, Dave Hartnett who was charged with making the cuts by Gordon Brown.

Frankly it is not only costing us agents money in wasted time, the inefficiency and lack of leadership and responsible staff must be costing HMRC more than it saves in reducing their staff's ability to deal with issues to the lowest common denominator.

 Postscript: In the interest of fairness I should say that by telephoning on a Saturday I managed to speak to a helpful lady fairly promptly and it looks like the matter will be resolved, thanks to her. However, HMRC's delivery of customer service leaves a lot to be desired, not least that we would rather not be called customers.
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