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Taxpayers forced to wait over 5 minutes on hold to HMRC

Taxpayers looking to speak to HMRC are forced to wait an average of over five minutes each time they call with 20% even waiting over ten, according to figures published by HMRC. These delays cause an unnecessary level of stress for taxpayers and can lead to costly mistakes.

These wait times are in fact worsening with the average time increasing from 4:28 minutes in 2017/18 to 5:14 minutes in 2018/19. The proportion of those waiting over ten minutes rose from 14.6% to 19.7% over the same time period.

These increases mean HMRC has missed both its targets, as it had aimed for the average wait time to be five minutes and for the proportion of people waiting over ten minutes to be 15%.

If taxpayers cannot get through to HMRC in a timely manner, they may drop off the call. This could lead to them making mistakes on their tax returns and other forms if they do not get the advice needed. Mistakes could potentially lead to more serious consequences, such as financial penalties.

Everyone has experienced the stresses of listening to “muzak” as you wait on hold, but now consider the stresses of trying to meet tax return deadlines on top of that.

These wait times balloon further in the lead up to major deadlines such as self-assessment, when HMRC receives huge call volumes. If taxpayers have queries, they should call earlier rather than later as lengthy delays on the phone will not be accepted as an excuse for failing to file a tax return on time. For those not in a rush, the best time to call HMRC is after 6pm when call wait times tend to be the shortest.

However, it’s not just self-assessment when HMRC’s helplines and in demand - taxpayers regularly face deadlines throughout the year. For example, businesses have to file VAT returns quarterly and individuals often have to meet one-off deadlines, such as declaring offshore interests.

Dealing with tax returns issues are already complex and time consuming. However, despite this, HMRC’s priorities look obvious: as it continues to pump money into its compliance teams, vital customer helplines creak under a lack of resources.

Tax investigations can be costly, time consuming and stressful for individuals and small businesses who may not have the resources to meet legal fees that arise.