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Thousands turn to Twitter to complain about HMRC phone lines

9 September 2015

Frustrated callers tweeted HMRC over 11,500 times in the last 12 months to complain about long phone line queues.

New analysis from Citizens Advice shows people complained via Twitter about spending an average of 47 minutes in total to speak to someone at HMRC.

While official figures suggest an average wait of 10 minutes, the study from Citizens Advice shows many people are waiting longer.  

One person tweeted they had tried to get through to HMRC on four occasions - waiting an hour each time.

Reasons for calling HMRC include explaining a change in circumstances that will impact on tax credits, for example losing their job or having a child, or to clarify income tax payments.  

A person’s tax credits won’t be adjusted accordingly if they can’t update HMRC about their circumstances.  This could mean they aren’t receiving all of the support available or are being overpaid which can cause debts further down the line.

A worker may not be able to file their self assessment return on time if they cannot get through on the phone, and could face a fine for missing the deadline.

Citizens Advice carried out the study, which looked at complaints made to the @HMRCgovuk Twitter account between September 2014 to August 2015, after people seeking help from the charity had reported not being able to get through to resolve matters with HMRC.  

The charity helped with 295,000 queries in the last 12 months which could require people to contact HMRC.  

Three out of four of these cases specifically relate to tax credits, the others include  income tax, National Insurance Contributions and Child Benefit.

In addition, every month 67,000 people visit the tax credit pages of the Citizens Advice website making it the third most visited section of the site.

HMRC phones lines are a 0300 numbers meaning calls are charged at the same rate as a standard landline call and could be included in some phone package’s free minutes.  However if a person is waiting 47 minutes it could cost them £4.66.

The charity is also warning that the roll-out of Universal Credit and changes to tax credits could mean waiting times will further soar as more and more people try to speak to someone about their circumstances.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“People are paying the price for not getting through to HMRC.  From fines for not completing a tax return in time to under or overpayments for tax credits, people can be left out of pocket because they cannot speak to HMRC on the phone.

“Work and caring responsibilities means not everyone will be able to wait for three quarters of an hour to ask HMRC a question.  

“We have consistently raised this issue with the Government.  But evidence from across the Citizens Advice service, and our new research, shows HMRC is still failing to provide a timely service.  

“There is already a clear demand to be able to speak to HMRC.  With the roll-out of Universal Credit and big changes to tax credits just around the corner this is only going to grow.  HMRC needs to urgently address the problems many people are experiencing with phone lines.”

Citizens Advice advisers acting on behalf of clients also face long queues for the intermediary line, which organisations like Citizens Advice can use to make direct contact with HMRC staff.

Peak months for complaints via Twitter include:

  • January 2015 when income tax self assessments are due by the end of the month (1,133 tweets).

  • June and July in the run up to the 31 July deadline for tax credit renewals (1,443 for June and 1,128 for July).

Data published by Citizens Advice earlier this year shows the number of people seeking advice for complaints about public services has grown over the last few years.  There has been a 51 per cent increase between 2011-12 to 2014-15.  The charity’s evidence shows people are struggling to access the public services they need and then struggling to complain when they don’t.

Notes to editors

  1. The study looked at every tweet which mentioned @HMRCgovuk between 29/08/2014 and 28/08/2015 which in total was 33,996.  It used keywords to identify tweets relating to the phone line including ‘helpline’, ‘hold’ and ‘min’. Further analysis highlighted irrelevant tweets leaving 11,496.

  2. These tweets came from 8,632 different accounts – meaning that the average number of tweets per account was 1.33.

  3. The average call length was calculated by looking at all Tweets for August 2015. The aggregated figures are for the total amount of time a person spent on the phone, not the average individual call eg a person phoned HMRC three times and each call took 1/2 an hour to get through was counted as 90 minutes.

  4. The average call cost was estimated by using the cost of a call if a person is on BT  fixed line, no inclusive calls tariff which is 9.58pence per minute to 0300 numbers which works out at £4.66 which also includes the 15.97 pence connection fee.  

  5. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.

  6. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  7. To find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales or to get advice online, visit citizensadvice.org.uk.

  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  9. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million people on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends.

  10. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.