HMRC speeds up its call helpline target

HMRC is to spend £34 million over the next two years to hire more staff and reach call centre targets two years earlier than planned.

It forms part of a promise to a Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee to improve levels of service, with HMRC pledging to spend an additional £9 million this year and up to £25 million in 2012/14.

Up to 1,000 additional call centre staff are to be recruited in a bid to answer 90 per cent of all calls first time round.

HMRC's chief executive Lin Homer said: "Our contact centres receive around 60 million phone calls a year and how well we operate this service is of huge importance to our customers."

"It is vital that when customers call us for help their call is answered - and in a reasonable time. The feedback we get is that the quality of the advice we give when people get through is good, but we haven't been answering enough calls."

The decision to invest in extra staff was made following a consultation with the Joint Initiative on HMRC Service Delivery (JIHSD) which involves professional bodies and tax charities. Homer said that the decision to speed up its promise from the original 2015 deadline was made after suggestions from customers, stakeholders and its own staff.

It said that the investment would be made by reprioritising 'without impacting our other core customer services.' It is hoped that the additional staff will also reduce call waiting times drastically.

HMRC answered just 48 per cent of call attempts in 2010/11, although this improved to 74 per cent in 2011/12.

It has come under criticism in recent years following the 2005 merger between the Inland Revenue and HMRC which saw the department's total budget reduced by 14 per cent and a reduction in employee numbers.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), which is involved in HMRC's Joint Initiative, said the move to speed up call targets was 'very welcome news'.

Chairman for the Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG) Anthony Thomas said: "Improving service at call centres is an important way to make the tax system easier to understand and use for ordinary taxpayers."