Currently taxpayers, who ring HMRC helplines for advice regarding their tax affairs, have no choice but to use expensive 0845 numbers. Phone calls to these numbers often result in high phone bills, particularly for those using mobile phones, in these cases costs can be up to 41p a minute. This price per minute rate, combined with the fact that many using the helplines have reported being on hold for over 10 minutes, has been classified as unacceptable by some MPs.The average waiting time for the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) helplines is six minutes, including a two-minute recorded message.
What will the HMRC helplines number be after the change?
In response to criticism from the Commons Public Accounts Committee regarding the cost of the phone calls and the length of time customers have to wait to talk to an advisor, HMRC has promised to switch its helplines to a cheaper 03 prefix.Ruth Owen, director general of personal tax at HMRC told MPs; “We are renegotiating the contract now but we are going to move ahead of that because that renegotiation will take some time”. HMRC has assured the Commons Public Accounts Committee that all customer calls will be switched to the 03 prefix by the end of summer.
The first helpline that will be changed will be that which directs people for advice regarding Child Benefit, a number that will probably be used by increasing numbers of people over the coming weeks as the benefit is taken away from high earners. Tax credit enquiry lines already use the cheaper 03 numbers.
As well as changing the numbers of the phonelines, HMRC is setting itself a new target of making 80% of people wait no longer than five minutes to speak to a real person, including recorded messages. This target comes after a recent National Audit Office report calculated that taxpayers were losing £136m a year in call charges and wasted time.