Hunt intervenes to stop HMRC closing helplines over summer

By John Mercury March 20, 2024

Jeremy Hunt has intervened to stop HMRC closing its helplines for half the year following outcry.

On Tuesday, the revenues office announced that from 8 April until 29 September, people would be unable to call them for help with their tax return as part of a push to digitise services.

The plans would have meant that for these six months, the self-assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines would be closed to customers, who would be directed to self-serve through its online services.

The announcement was criticised by a range of sectors and less than a day later, HMRC said it had “listened” to the feedback and would be halting the plans.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said: “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.

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

He added that HMRC has “listened to the feedback” and “we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met”.

Hunt intervention

Sky News understands that the decision follows an intervention by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

jeremy hunt
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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt intervened to stop the closure

A Treasury source told The Telegraph, which first reported on the story, that the move to online services “cannot be at the detriment of the general public and the vulnerable who need access to the helplines to support them with tax matters”.

“That’s why ministers have halted this change immediately,” they added.

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The plans were criticised by tax experts and small businesses, who said closing phone helplines would “be greeted with dismay”.

Chairwoman of the Treasury Select Committee, Harriett Baldwin, said that 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 announcement came weeks after parliament’s cross-party spending watchdog said HMRC’s customer services had hit an “all-time low”.

MPs are due to debate the matter at an Urgent Question taking place on the matter after Prime Minister’s Questions today.

source

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