HMRC to close helplines one day a week to clear backlog

VAT and Corporation Tax helplines at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will close for one day a week to help clear the backlog built up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HMRC first introduced a test exercise in December and says that success has prompted the move to close tax helplines on Fridays in February and March, as the tax office continues to work through stocks of post built up over the past year.

HMRC says that during the pandemic it prioritised essential services, the livelihoods of groups most in need and supporting the COVID-19 support schemes.

It also prioritised the UK’s transition from the European Union and the essential services that keep the tax system running.

In the first half of last year, HMRC says it focused on stabilising  phone services and the tax credits/child benefit service, while maintaining customs and supporting COVID-19 support schemes until they closed in October 2021.

The VAT and Corporation Tax phone helplines will be closed on Fridays from 25 February until 25 March, although the VAT line will be open on the 4 March to cater for the month-end deadline.

The Corporation Tax and VAT lines will close on:

  • CT – 25‌‌‌ ‌‌February to 25‌‌‌ ‌‌March 2022
  • VAT (excluding bereavement) – 25‌‌‌ ‌‌February to 25‌‌‌ ‌‌March 2022 (excluding 4‌‌‌ ‌‌March)

When the phone lines were closed in December, HMRC received around 2,500 extra calls over the three Mondays after the Friday closures.

However, chief executive Jim Harra said the department was still able to offer an “acceptable level of service”.

He explained that the dedicated time to focus on post had enabled the department to clear more than 4,000 additional pieces of post each day.

He said: “We saw an increased productivity rate among colleagues, above our initial planning assumptions, who were able to focus on the task without stopping mid-way through to take a phone call.”

The tax office has said it wants to be back on top of its backlog by April 2022.

Mr Harra added:  “We understand the frustrations of customers and agents who are waiting for HMRC to get to their individual enquiry, we’re sorry that we can’t get to everyone more quickly and thank them for bearing with us.”

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