HMRC too fragmented and failing to address customer service

Ongoing problems with poor customer service, a siloed approach to departmental organisation and cuts in staffing at HMRC remain critical areas of concern for key stakeholders, incuding regulators, MPs and tax agents, interviewed for the latest HMRC stakeholder survey

The survey sample included MPs, legislators, businesses, tax agents and representatives from the voluntary and community sectors.

Respondents said that on the whole HMRC does a reasonable job as the UK’s tax authority, although the parliamentary, voluntary and community sectors were more negative in their responses.

There was a general recognition of improvements in HMRC’s overall performance, which stakeholders described as ‘good performance given limited resources’, and a degree of understanding that HMRC is operating under pressure with ongoing job cuts and an ambitious restructuring programme which will see the closure of many local offices to be replaced with larger dedicated tax offices.

On the downside, poor customer service, including slow telephone response times and generally inadequate performance at call centres, was a major area for concern; this issue was raised without any prompts from researchers.

Despite customer service being cited as the most important objective for HMRC, it was deemed to be the worst area of performance in the survey.

Internally fragmented

There were also criticisms of HMRC's complex internal structure and a lack of coordination between critical departments within the organisation. Many stakeholders highlighted ‘the complexity of HMRC and see the organisation as internally fragmented – wherein separate teams and directorates work in silos.

'This perception of fragmentation is driven by communications issues experienced by stakeholders, who report being passed between teams and directorates on an issue-by-issue basis and finding it difficult to navigate the organisation and find the right person to speak to’, the report stated.

The report stated: 'Overall, stakeholders are most likely to view their relationship with HMRC as that of a "critical friend" – almost all stakeholders explain that they are supportive of HMRC’s ultimate aims and objectives, and would advocate for and defend HMRC on particular issues where they saw fit. 

'They see the value of their relationship with HMRC as providing strategic and constructive engagement where necessary to support HMRC in improving performance.'

On a positive note, respondents said that HMRC performed best in maximising tax revenues and improving collection rates, which was the second most important issue for stakeholders.

The respondents were negative about any moves to introduce further cost cutting as part of the wider austerity programme stating that HMRC cannot afford to make any more cuts without further negatively affecting its ability to improve customer service.

HMRC interviewed 340 stakeholders between 10 September and 30 October 2015 to gauge their perceptions and understanding of HMRC as well as their expectations about future developments at the tax authority although there was no research into the impact of digitisation on HMRC services.

TheHMRC Stakeholder Engagement Research 2015 report is available here. 
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