HMRC to close tax helpline, forcing customers struggling with tax returns to use online chatbot

19 March 2024, 14:56

HMRC has sparked outrage after announcing its self-assessment helpline will close for some of the year - forcing people struggling with their taxes to use a chatbot
HMRC has sparked outrage after announcing its self-assessment helpline will close for some of the year - forcing people struggling with their taxes to use a chatbot. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

HMRC has sparked outrage after announcing its self-assessment helpline will close for some of the year - forcing people struggling with their taxes to use a chatbot.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

HM Revenue and Customs announced permanent changes to helpline services on Tuesday to encourage people to go online first to find help.

It said it had successfully trialled the scheme over the past year, which will now be rolled out as a permanent feature, beginning on April 8.

But the decision has sparked outrage from users of the helpline and politicians who have raised concerns about exchanging a helpline for HMRC's "digital assistant".

HMRC website, self assessment
HMRC website, self assessment. Picture: Alamy

Read More: HMRC slammed for 'brutal' post about darts star Luke Littler's '£83,000 tax bill'

Read More: Man, 39, who sent explicit picture to teenage girl is jailed over first cyber-flashing offence in England

Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said the move to online services should not be "forced on taxpayers".

She said the revenue body has not yet demonstrated that the department or the public "are ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues".

The select committee head said: "It is a great shame that HMRC have decided now is the time to essentially close down any avenues for people to contact them over the phone for huge parts of the year. I say once again, these are well-meaning people just trying to get their taxes right.

"We've heard time and time again that every effort is being made to direct 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 ready to make such a monumental change to how they resolve tax issues. This should not be forced upon taxpayers until there is evidence that people know how to do their taxes on HMRC's incredibly complex website."

While the self-assessment helpline is closed, the tax office said customers would instead be directed to self-serve through its online services.

Between October and March, the helpline will be open to deal with priority calls and customers with queries "that can be quickly and easily resolved" online will be directed to HMRC's online services.

The VAT helpline will be open for five days every month ahead of the deadline for filing VAT return, while the PAYE helpline will no longer take calls from customers relating to refunds and customers will be directed to use HMRC's online services.

Screengrab of HMRC's digital assistant
Screengrab of HMRC's digital assistant. Picture: HMRC

Read More: Eton College pupil, 17, ‘dies after collapsing on pitch during field game just yards away from his father’

Read More: Armed police shoot dead XL bully after it mauled four people in rampage in London street

HMRC advisers will continue to always be available during normal office opening hours to support customers who cannot use online services or who have health or personal circumstances that mean they need extra support.

It added that all other helplines will continue to operate as they do currently.

The revenue body said the move to online self-service for self-assessment and VAT is a vital element of HMRC's modernisation of the tax system.

It said customers can access information more quickly and easily by going online or to the HMRC app.

Angela MacDonald, HMRC's second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive, said: "Online services have transformed our lives and often provide a better service for managing tax - they're quicker, easier and always available.

"Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisers to focus support where it is most needed - helping those with complex tax queries and those who are vulnerable and need extra support.

"We must maximise every pound of taxpayers' money. Embracing online self-service allows us to help more customers and improve our customer service levels without spending additional public money."

HMRC said a previous trial enabled it to help more customers and did not impact on self-assessment taxpayers' ability to file or pay on time - with a record 11.5 million filing their return by January 31 2024.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Both of them received community orders

Two asylum seekers who stole £25k gold Rolex in London's Soho allowed to walk free

It doesn't have to be that warm for your sleep to be affected

Revealed: the temperature that means you may not be sleeping well as UK gripped by heatwave

Trump gunman researched Royal family member during planning for assassination attempt

Trump gunman researched Royal family member during planning for assassination attempt

US President Joe Biden

Joe Biden ‘more receptive to standing down after senior Democrats turn on President’ as he battles Covid

Vance hailed Donald Trump as America's "best hope".

Donald Trump is the 'best hope for America', says vice-president pick JD Vance

Grange Hill and London's Burning actor John Alford charged with sexual offences involving a child

Grange Hill and London's Burning actor John Alford charged with sexual offences involving a child

Sir Keir Starmer will not seek a returns agreement in a meeting with European officials today, David Lammy has said

Starmer not seeking migrant returns deal with European nations, Foreign Secretary tells LBC

The Labour Party's commitment to establishing Great British Railways (GBR) is a monumental step towards revolutionising our rail network, says Clive Wratten.

King Charles's Speech: Opportunity to Revolutionise British Transport

Jessica Lawson drowned on a school trip in 2015

French lifeguard and local council found guilty of manslaughter after Brit girl, 12, drowned in lake on school trip

James Jordan addressed the resurfaced video

Ex-Strictly star James Jordan hits back after resurfaced training footage from show sparks backlash

Sir Mark Rowley has launched a major recruitment drive

Met Police officer numbers drop as force calls for 'thousands of applicants' in new recruitment drive

President Joe Biden walks to his car after stepping off of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. Biden is returning to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid

Biden tests positive for Covid and cancels Vegas campaign event after saying he would only quit race on doctors' orders

Starmer is set to push for a migrant return deal with the EU

Starmer to push for new migrant return deal with EU, as he seeks to 'renew UK's relationship with Europe' at summit

Keir Starmer faces a challenge over the two-child benefit cap

Keir Starmer seeks to stave off Labour backbench revolt over benefit cap with child poverty taskforce

A man has been shot dead in Kirkby

Man shot dead on residential street close to Liverpool training ground, as police launch murder investigation

Joe Biden has hinted he could step aside from the race against Donald Trump for the White House

Biden hints he could quit election race against Trump on medical advice, as top Democrat calls for him to stand down