More than four million calls to HMRC’s tax helpline went unanswered in the last year, according to statistics released by the government. This is almost twice that compared to the year before.

The alarming figures come at a time when HMRC is proposing major changes to the IR35 legislation. Such changes will see the off-payroll tax rules, currently used by the public sector, rolled out into the private sector.  HMRC has recently launched a consultation on the proposals, which will run until  August 2018.

Rising pressure

“If HMRC are already under pressure to pick up the phone, imagine how chaotic it will be for businesses and the self-employed if the government proceeds with its ill-judged proposal to extend IR35 rules to the private sector,” said Andrew Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE).

Time lost waiting

HMRC’s monthly performance reports between February 2017 and February 2018 show that more than one in ten people who rang the tax helpline didn’t have their calls answered. And of the 43 million callers, 14% on average had to wait more than ten minutes before getting through. But these figures don’t include the time spent within the call navigation service prior to this. This can add four minutes to each call. Nor do they reveal how many callers reached an engaged tone when dialing the helpline.

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The figures come despite the government’s efforts to improve the service. Commenting on the failure, Peter Dowd MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “If people call up to pay their taxes they should be able to get through, and given that the deficit still hasn’t been eliminated, you would think this would be a top priority for the Chancellor.”

An important service

The Office for National Statistics estimates that 4.75 million people are self-employed in the UK, making up 15% of the workforce. Many of these workers do not have tax advisors to hand. Instead, they rely on services such as the HMRC helpline for assistance.

“The self-employed don’t have an army of consultants and experts to assist them with complex matters of tax, and they rely on HMRC to provide them with timely assistance,” Chamberlain said. “Time spent on the phone is time the self-employed and independent professionals aren’t earning money.”