MPs have called on HMRC to vastly improve the customer service they provide after statistics show only half of the calls through to their helpline were answered in the first half of 2015.
A cross-party committee have produced a report asking Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to evaluate the impact of bad customer service on tax revenues and to “produce a detailed plan setting out how and when it will provide an acceptable standard of customer service.”
The Public Accounts Committee believe the failure to answer public’s phone calls is unacceptably poor and will hamper tax collection. The MPs also stated how corporate tax evaders are let off too lightly by the revenue, with many corporations failing to pay their fair share of tax.
Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, and an MP for the Labour Party, said: “HMRC must rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse – to the extent it could be considered a genuine threat to tax collection.”
Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC also gave evidence which revealed the customer call response rate to be “dipping down towards 50% of calls answered” for the first half of the year.
Hillier, determined to pressurise the HMRC to improve, said: “It beggars belief that, having made disappointing progress on tax evasion and avoidance, the taxman also seems incapable of running a satisfactory service for people trying to pay their fair share.”
The report also shows a number of prosecutions for offshore tax evasion, a number they consider “woefully inadequate,” and believe there could be substantially more of. Despite HMRC officials stressing the high costs and complexities of court cases, Hillier argues that these high-profile prosecutions would act as considerable deterrents for corporations attempting to evade tax with offshore accounts. “A prosecution is public; it’s there for everyone to see,” she said.
HMRC spoke of their disappointment in the Public Accounts Committee for overlooking some good results, including the collection of a record £517bn in tax revenues and the further reduction of UK’s “tax gap,” remaining one of the world’s lowest. The committee did acknowledge, however, that HMRC has reduced costs by from £3.4bn to £3.1bn since 2010; a period when tax revenue has been on the rise.
A spokesperson told The Guardian: “We explained to the committee that we hadn’t provided a consistent level of customer service in the first half of the year and we had recruited around 3,000 new staff to improve service levels. But these customer service issues did not affect our ability to collect tax.
“Last year, we secured £26bn of additional yield across all our compliance work, ensuring everyone pays what they owe. Tackling tax evasion is a top priority for HMRC and last year alone we successfully prosecuted a record 1,200 cases, resulting in 407 years of custodial sentences. We also routinely publish the number of tax avoidance schemes, which show a steady decline as a result of tough government action. We brought in more than £1bn from the first year of applying accelerated payments to avoidance cases and have closed many loopholes and secured tough new enforcement powers.”
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