HMRC: how many unanswered calls?

Published: 31st May 2018

In brief

Claim

More than four million calls to the taxman are going unanswered, new figures show.

Conclusion

This was the case in 2016/17, according to analysis from the National Audit Office. This year the figure is higher. Around 5.6 million customer calls to HMRC (13%) were unanswered between April 2017 and February 2018.

 

More than one in 10 callers to HMRC fails to get through to anyone, compared with just over one in 20 a year ago.

 

13% of calls to HMRC went unanswered from April 2017 to February 2018, compared to 8% in 2016/17 as a whole.

Claim 1 of 2

“More than four million calls to the taxman are going unanswered, new figures show… More than one in 10 callers to HMRC fails to get through to anyone, compared with just over one in 20 a year ago”

The Telegraph, 29 May 2018

Between April 2017 and February 2018, around 13% of calls to an HMRC adviser went unanswered, that’s around 5.6 million calls.

There were around 4 million unanswered calls across the whole year in 2016/17.

Around 15% of calls that were answered between April 2017 and February 2018 took more than ten minutes to be picked up.

HMRC’s performance figures are currently worse than for the year 2016/17 (although data for the last month of 2017/18 isn’t available yet). That said, it is meeting its targets in terms of average response time to a call, and the level of calls answered in under ten minutes.

13% of calls to an HMRC adviser weren’t answered in 2017/18

13% of calls made by the general public to HMRC weren’t answered between April 2017 and February 2018.

In total there were 43 million calls to HMRC from the public between April 2017 and February 2018. 13% of these calls would total around 5.6 million unanswered calls.

HMRC has an automated phone system which directs customers to the correct department and can answer some questions—if this doesn’t help the customer they can then speak to an adviser.

Some calls ended in the automated system might be classed as not handled (or not answered) though most are classed as handled if the caller hangs up. If the caller receives a busy message and their call is disconnected while waiting to speak to an adviser or if there are technical difficulties and the call ends, that’s also counted as not handled.

There were around four million unanswered calls in 2016/17 (around 8% of all calls), according to analysis of HMRC figures by the National Audit Office (NAO). That said, the NAO analysis says “Independent research commissioned by HMRC concluded that HMRC cannot assume that all customers have had their query resolved at the point a call ends, meaning HMRC could have resolved fewer queries than it has reported.”

A higher proportion of calls are answered now than several years ago, but performance has dipped this year

13% is a higher level than the corresponding period in 2016/17, when 9% of calls went unanswered. Across the whole of 2016/17, 8% of calls went unanswered.

In February 2018 (the most recent month we have figures for), 10% of calls went unanswered. That compares to 6% in February 2017.

Performance has improved in the last two years though. In 2015/16, 28% of calls went unanswered, and in 2010/11 it was 52%.

HMRC’s target until 2015/16 was to answer 80% of calls. In 2016/17 this rose to 85%. We have not seen an explicit target for 2017/18.

15% of answered calls took more than ten minutes to be picked up since April 2017

Between April 2017 and February 2018, just under 15% of calls that were answered took more than ten minutes to be picked up. In the month of February 2018 it was 12%, and 14% in January. We’ve not found any comparable monthly figures covering 2016/17.

HMRC’s target is that no more than 15% of calls take over 10 minutes to be answered. They told us that their waiting time figures don’t include any time spent in the automated system which directs customers to the right person, or answers their question.

In February 2018, the average call was answered after three minutes and 47 seconds. The average waiting time since April 2017 is around four and a half minutes. In 2016/17, the average was three minutes and 54 seconds. HMRC’s target is for calls to be answered within five minutes.

Correction 18 June 2018

We’ve updated the conclusion and text of this piece to reflect the fact that the % of unhandled calls includes all calls to HMRC. We previously said that it was the proportion of all calls to HMRC which are waiting to speak to an adviser, based on information we received from HMRC. We’ve also included more information on the four million figure provided by the Telegraph.


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