Welcome to the 21st century HMRC.

Rebecca Crook, CGO
29 April 2019

We live in a digitally accessible world, yet time has firmly stood still for HMRC who insist on letters, post and phone calls. Therefore, it was a revelation last week when they announced that they will allow taxpayers to complain online from Autumn. This was a result of mounting pressure from the Treasury Committee.

For anyone who has had the unpleasant experience of having to escalate a complaint such as an incorrect tax code or the wrong deduction, you’ll know that you’ve had to phone its helpline (in my opinion, their not so helpful helpline) or worse still write into them by paper mail (I’ve also had to do this).

Interesting HMRC have blamed Brexit for the delay in overhauling its complaints process, stating that they had to get ready for leaving the EU. That seems like quite a weak excuse given it's pretty common practice for companies to accept complaints online, but then the government have not got a great track record in delivering digital transformation programmes successfully. They typically end massively over budget, are delivered late and worse – still don’t meet the objectives.

The public have been over-promised time and time again when it comes to the government’s implementation of digital accessibility to services. Several years ago, it was announced that the ‘NHS would go paperless by 2018’. That certainly hasn’t happened. Prior to that there was a disastrous £10 billion spent on electronic records which then got scrapped. That could have funded a lot of doctors and nurses.

Back to HMRC. The government has regularly declared its ambition to be ‘one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world’, so the move to online complaints direct to the Adjudicators Office which is currently only accessible by fax (yes, people do seemingly still use faxes), post and telephone is going to be a big leap forward.

It will be interesting to see how HMRC adopt digital channels. Will they introduce an online tracking system for complaints, instant messaging and how well will they use digital channels to listen to customers and deal with complaints swiftly?

All ombudsmen and regulators have complex rules, powers and regulations which often means there is a very inconsistent approach in complaint handling. For anyone who has dealt with HMRC, you’ll know that their auto-generated responses with language and terminology that is not simple gives the impression that they’ve not listened and that we are not being spoken to like a human being. Let’s hope they use the very best of digital to meet consumers expectations and introduce an effective and user-friendly service.