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HMRC U-Turn on Helpline Changes

HMRC has withdrawn changes to its helplines, less than 24 hours after announcing them.

Plans to shake up HM Revenue and Customs’ helpline services, which would have seen the self-assessment helpline closed for part of the year, have been halted following an outcry.

On Tuesday 20th March, HMRC announced “permanent” changes to the self-assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines, drawing criticism from a range of sectors in doing so.

By Wednesday morning, HMRC had back-peddled, saying it was halting the plans in response to feedback.

Shift to online shouldn’t be forced

The changes would have meant that between April and September, the self-assessment helpline would be closed and customers would be directed to self-serve through its online services.

Chairwoman of the Treasury Select Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said on Tuesday that the move to online services should not be “forced on taxpayers”.

She said that 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”.

Dawn Register, head of tax dispute resolution at advisory firm BDO, said previously: “Tax can be horribly stressful and our concern is that this decision will make being tax compliant more challenging for some people.”

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) previously described the plans as “misguided”.

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said on Tuesday that the plans would “be greeted with dismay by thousands of small businesses”.

HMRC said it is now halting its plans in response to the feedback while it engages with its stakeholders about how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs – including small businesses – are met as it shifts more people to online self-service in the longer term.

It means the changes to the self-assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines announced by HMRC will all be halted while it engages with stakeholders, and phone lines will remain open between April and September.

Jim Harra, HMRC chief executive said on Wednesday: “Making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity.

“Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

“However the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

“We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.”

HMRC said it will continue encouraging customers to self-serve where possible and access the information they need more quickly and easily by going online or to its app.