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HMRC closes its tax help service for half the year: what you need to know

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HMRC will close its self-assessment helpline for almost six months each year, forcing customers to use its online services instead.

Taxpayers will not be able to call the tax office from April 8 until September 30, HMRC has confirmed, meaning people who would previously have spoken to an advisor about their claims will now have to help themselves online.

The telephone line will close every year at the same time, he added.

HMRC said it was taking this action because “around two thirds of calls” to its helpline were “routine or simple queries, which can be resolved online using our services, tools and advice digital.

It said previous trials in which it closed the self-assessment line allowed it to help more customers and did not impact taxpayers’ ability to file or pay on time .

The announcement comes weeks after Parliament’s cross-party spending watchdog said HMRC’s customer services had reached an “all-time low”.

So how will your requests be handled from now on? Is there a way to reach someone by phone and will a special helpline for MPs be assigned?

Here’s what you need to know.

What will happen from April 8 when you have an HMRC query?

Where you might previously have been able to speak to someone in HMRC’s Self-Assessment, PAYE and VAT services, you will now be directed to self-service via HMRC’s online services.

The VAT helpline will still be open five days a month before the VAT return submission deadline – but outside of this period you will need to use online services.

Those who call the lines will hear a recorded message tailored to the reason for their call, HMRC says.

If you called from a mobile phone, you’ll receive a text message taking you directly to the information you need, he adds, before your call is disconnected.

HMRC says customers will be given “clear information… so they know what to do and how to resolve their query online, and how to access further support if they need it”.

It says its online advice includes written advice, recorded webinars, YouTube videos and a digital assistant, adding that “these can answer most client queries”.

Between October and March, the helpline will be open to deal with priority calls and customers with questions “that can be resolved quickly and easily” online will be directed to HMRC’s online services.

All other helplines will continue to operate as they currently do, HMRC says.

What “additional support” is offered and who benefits?

HMRC says it is allocating “additional resources” to its online chat and online services helpline (OSH).

Online chat will allow customers whose requests are not processed online to exchange messages with an advisor, while OSH will cater to “customers who cannot access online services or who have reasons health or personal needs requiring additional assistance.

This includes callers with a disability, mental health problem or personal circumstances requiring specialist help.

HMRC says these customers must remain on the line when calling for help, and will receive the SST contact number via voicemail once they have completed the ‘query routing journey’.

You can learn more about specific protocols in place for people with disabilities, older adults, and other potentially affected groups. here.

Are there any other exceptions?

No, but a helpline that can be used by MPs will not be affected, HMRC confirmed to Sky News, meaning calls from civil servants will still be answered.

The line, operated by a specialist service known as Public Department 1 (PD1), allows MPs to deal with their personal tax queries.

An HMRC spokesperson said there were “no plans to restrict the PD1 helpline”, adding: “PD1 is a dedicated helpline for those who need a greater level of protection because of their identity or work. It has nothing to do with people’s wealth.

“PD1 files are processed separately, and only a small number of employees can access them. We typically have seven people answering calls on this helpline.

“No evidence that the public is ready for monumental change”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “HMRC has already outlined its plans to ensure it invests in its technology to ensure it reaches as many customers as possible.”

Asked if the Prime Minister thought HMRC’s customer service was good, he replied: “Of course he thinks HMRC’s customer service is good, but he recognizes that there is always more to do and would recognize some of the challenges that HMRC has faced.”

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Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said: “It is a real shame that HMRC has decided that the time has come to essentially close down any means for people to contact them by telephone for much of the year.

“I repeat, these are well-meaning people who are just trying to pay their taxes well.

“We have heard time and time again that every effort is being made to get people to resolve issues online.

“The committee welcomes efforts to make the tax system more efficient, but HMRC has not yet demonstrated that the Department or the public are prepared to make such a monumental change in the way they resolve tax issues.

“This should not be imposed on taxpayers until it is proven that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC’s incredibly complex website.”

What HMRC says

Angela MacDonald, second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive of HMRC, said: “Online services have transformed our lives and often provide a better tax management service – they are quicker, easier and always available.

“Modifying our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our phone support advisors to focus support where it is needed most – helping those who have questions complex tax issues and those who are vulnerable and need additional assistance.

“We need to maximize every euro of taxpayers’ money. Adopting online self-service allows us to help more customers and improve our customer service levels without spending additional public money.”

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