Would you like to talk to HMRC? Instead you will receive a text message

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HM Revenue & Customs will be answering hundreds of thousands of basic taxpayer questions by SMS this month in an effort to improve poor customer service.

Taxpayers with routine inquiries will be texted with a link to the HMRC website instead of being put through to a human at the IRS. It’s part of a trial, running through April, that will redirect simple questions, such as those related to unique reference numbers or resetting passwords, online.

A spokesman for HMRC said a text message would be “activated automatically” according to the caller’s demand. It only applies to taxpayers calling from a mobile phone, not from a landline.

HMRC expects 170,000 calls to its basic questions helpline in January ahead of the self-assessment TBEN at the end of the month.

Richard West, from HMRC, said: “By redirecting these kinds of questions to online services, customers can find the answer faster. It also means calls from customers during the current self-assessment peak whose questions cannot be easily answered online and need help from an advisor to get the right support.”

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Taxpayers calling HMRC with more complex questions related to filing their tax returns or employment history will also be offered the option of a text message and an online link. They can also choose to stay on the line and speak to a call handler.

Mr West added: “Customers who cannot use digital services can receive support in the normal way.”
It comes as the taxman is desperately trying to reduce waiting times for its helpline after MPs criticized “unacceptable” customer service.

Last week, the powerful Public Accounts Committee of MPs gave HMRC three months to improve the handling of taxpayers’ enquiries. Many callers had to wait more than an hour for an answer to their question, while some were cut off before receiving an answer.

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The IRS has cut customer service staff from 25,500 to 19,500 over the past five years and MPs recently expressed “serious concerns” that the authority’s work-from-home policy had extended self-assessment waiting times.

Chris Etherington, from the RSM tax office, said: “This could be an important first step towards modernizing HMRC’s approach to simple taxpayer queries, but this particular measure seems unlikely to have a significant impact in the short term. have on its performance. ”

Mr Etherington said taxpayers may also have “legitimate concerns” about the safety of using text messages and website links for tax inquiries, which could be exploited by fraudsters.

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He added: “Many taxpayers should already be able to access this kind of information online and those who find it difficult may not want to use a text message service.”

In its report last week, the Public Accounts Committee said it was not convinced plans to digitize the tax system would be enough to improve HMRC’s service.

One of the recommendations was that the tax authorities explain how taxpayers “who cannot communicate digitally or who prefer contact by post or telephone” are supported by its employees.

Last month, HMRC missed calls from nearly 100,000 taxpayers when phone lines went down. It was also forced to suspend some online services.

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