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Self-assessment helpline will focus on ‘priority queries’ in run-up to deadline

A powerful committee of MPs has raised concerns after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said its self-assessment helpline will focus on priority calls in the run-up to the filing deadline.

On Thursday, HMRC said it will be focusing its self-assessment helpline on priority calls in the run-up to the filing deadline, with other inquiries pointed to its online services.

Customers calling with queries that can be quickly and easily resolved online will be directed to HMRC’s online services from December 11 until the self-assessment deadline on January 31.

The department’s advisers will focus on answering self-assessment queries that cannot be easily dealt with online as well as supporting customers who require extra support or cannot engage digitally, HMRC said.

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Treasury Committee chairwoman Harriett Baldwin, said: “The Treasury Committee has repeatedly stressed our concern about the management of the self-assessment helpline, particularly when it closed at such short notice over the summer leaving many struggling to access help with tax issues.

“Giving the public less than two working days’ notice of a significant reduction in service, while the deadline for self-assessment returns looms, is yet another alarming development for an increasingly pressured government service. I have written to the CEO of HMRC in order to get much-needed answers about what this means for taxpayers.”

The letter from Ms Baldwin, addressed to Jim Harra, says: “The restriction of access to the SA (self-assessment) helpline comes after you closed the helpline between June and September 2023.

“Are you taking this action because of the arrival of pent-up demand from the closure of the helpline in the summer?”

The letter also asks: “Are you concerned that what you consider to be ‘non-priority callers’ will repeatedly call the SA helpline until they are able to speak to a member of staff? Would this not create longer wait times for taxpayers?”

HMRC has said some queries can be resolved much more quickly online, giving examples such as updating personal information, chasing up the progress of a self-assessment registration, ending registration, and checking a taxpayer reference number.

It said that around two-thirds of calls to the self-assessment helpline can be resolved far more quickly through its online services. To make all self-assessment callers aware of the department’s online services, recorded messages supported by SMS texts will be used.

HMRC said it is moving to a digital-first approach, meaning customers can get their queries answered 24/7, without having to wait on the phone or write a letter.

Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s deputy chief executive and second permanent secretary, said: ”This is a busy time for customers who want to get their taxes sorted. We want to help customers resolve any issues in the quickest and easiest way, which is often through our online services.

“The vast majority of self-assessment customers file their returns digitally, so we’re helping them make the next step to resolving simpler queries through our online services.

“Our expert advisers will be there to help people with urgent and more complicated queries as well as helping the small number who are unable to access our online services.”