HMRC Charter annual report 2022 to 2023

HMRC Charter annual report 2022 to 2023

Message from the Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, Jim Harra

HMRC is your tax service – here to support you to get your tax right and make it hard for the dishonest minority to cheat the system.

The HMRC Charter sits at the heart of what we do, setting out the standards of service and behaviours that customers should always expect from us. The experience our customers have is central to our vision of being a trusted, modern tax and customs department.

This report, published by HMRC’s Commissioners and provided to us by HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee, sets out our progress in meeting the Charter standards during 2022 to 2023. I’m grateful for the continued support of the independent advisers on our Customer Experience Committee in helping us move towards our vision.

Millions of customers pay their tax without interacting with HMRC because of the way the tax system is designed. For example, each month the income of 30 million employees is reported and any tax that is due is paid through their employer. Millions of customers who do interact with HMRC do so through our growing online services – in 2022 to 2023 15.9 million customers used their online personal tax account and 2.3 million customers used the HMRC mobile app a total of 56.5 million times. I am delighted that when customers use our online services their feedback shows that over 82% are satisfied with their experience and that we are therefore meeting the Charter standards.

Nevertheless, 2022 to 2023 was a challenging period for us across many of our traditional phone and post services. While there were some specific short-term factors, such as high levels of demand, including from repayment agents, plus some IT disruption as we made vital upgrades to improve system security and resilience, the bigger picture is that our customer base is growing, and more customers have complex needs.

These factors are creating significant operational challenges for us and making it harder to meet our Charter standards. To meet our standards within our reducing departmental budget, we need to enable and encourage more customers to use our online services – that will both create a better customer experience for them and reduce demand for our phone and post services, freeing up our advisers to help those who need to speak or write to us. The key to doing this is through more and better online services which enable many more customers to resolve their issues quickly and easily.

In 2023, we’ll further improve the digital experience for our customers by introducing a new, single online account designed around customer tasks and needs, as well as enhancing the HMRC mobile app. From May 2023, Child Benefit customers are able to complete their claim fully online for the first time ever – and we’re adding more digital features all the time, including making it easier for customers to change their personal details or find their National Insurance Number.

As we take the next steps towards delivering a service that meets rapidly changing customer needs and economic circumstances, I welcome the Customer Experience Committee’s continued support and oversight in embedding the Charter in all that we do.

Jim Harra
HMRC First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive

Foreword by Chair of the Customer Experience Committee, Juliette Scott

As I spend my last year on the HMRC Board and chairing the Customer Experience Committee, I reflect on the significant change I have seen at HMRC over the past 6 years. Despite the significant challenges that the country and HMRC has faced, the department has made many positive steps towards becoming more customer focussed.

The department is now more alert to the needs and issues of its customers and citizens of the UK and is working through the data challenges it faces to enable it to build digital services which deliver a better customer experience. The department is embedding the principles of the Charter throughout the organisation and is listening and working more closely with stakeholders and citizens who are so keen and supportive for HMRC to achieve its vision of being a trusted, modern tax and customs department.

As highlighted in last year’s report, customer service levels, and specifically telephone answering times, continued to be a challenge during 2022 to 2023. With an increase in the number of taxpayers with more complicated tax affairs and the need to make substantial efficiencies, this will continue to be the case in the coming financial year. The department has extensive plans to advance its digital transformation. By encouraging more customers to use its online guidance and digital services fully, this will enable customer service colleagues to focus on those with more complex tax affairs and vulnerable customers who need extra support.

Recognising the customer service and economic challenges that HMRC will continue to face during 2023 to 2024, the Committee has agreed with the HMRC Board that it will continue to support and challenge HMRC with its digital transformation. The Committee will focus on HMRC’s design and delivery of a single online customer account, ensuring it improves the end-to-end customer experience of HMRC and is exploited to its maximum benefit across the department. In addition, the Committee will ensure this digital transformation is underpinned by:

  • a customer experience dashboard that provides multi-channel customer insight, providing a holistic picture of customer experience at an aggregate level

  • improved customer communications and guidance to ensure customers choose to use HMRC’s digital services

  • embedding of the Charter standards into all of HMRC’s decision making

The Committee will also support the HMRC Board in other deep dives related to customer experience improvement.

I would like to thank my fellow Committee members for their hard work and enthusiasm. I look forward to continuing to lead the Committee until the end of my term as we continue to provide the very best possible advice and guidance to HMRC. The scale and complexity of change the department faces is immense but with such hard working and dedicated colleagues I know it will succeed. Finally, may I thank all those colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure to work with at HMRC – it has been my honour.

Juliette Scott
HMRC Non-Executive Director

1. Introduction

Why the HMRC Charter matters

The HMRC Charter is core to HMRC’s vision of being a trusted, modern tax and customs department, setting the service standards and behaviours that customers should expect. It explains how HMRC will get things right, make things easy for customers, and be fair, responsive and aware of customers’ personal situations, including recognising that customers may want someone else to represent them and that HMRC will keep their data secure. The Charter is relevant to everything that HMRC delivers, and conforming with its standards will lead to positive experiences for customers.

The Charter is supported by further principles of support for customers who need extra help.

HMRC’s activities touch the lives of everyone in the UK, including more than 5 million businesses and over 34 million individuals. The vast majority of HMRC’s customers pay their tax in full and on time, without having to phone or write to HMRC.

When considering HMRC’s activities and customers it is helpful to consider the scale. For example:

  • in January 2023, 11.4 million of the 12 million expected Self Assessment returns were completed on time, with 97% of these submitted online

  • during 2022 to 2023, more than 8 million VAT returns were successfully submitted using software that talks directly to HMRC’s systems

  • HMRC’s customer service colleagues handled over 20 million telephone calls and received over 21 million items of correspondence

  • in 2022, the UK’s total goods trade (imports and exports) was worth over £1 trillion, of which goods imports accounted for £667 billion – the total number of customs declarations processed was 95.1 million

Assessing HMRC’s performance against the Charter in 2022 to 2023

This report is provided by HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee, which is made up of members of the executive and non-executive directors of HMRC, the Independent Adjudicator, and independent advisers recruited for their expertise in customer experience.

The assessment of HMRC’s performance against the Charter within this report incorporates feedback from the following:

  • the Customer Experience Committee, responsible for overseeing HMRC’s overall performance against the Charter standards, who provide an overview of how the Charter is being embedded in HMRC’s day-to-day operations and processes

  • the Adjudicator who provides an overall independent assessment of HMRC’s performance in section 4

  • the Charter Stakeholder Group who provide both an overall assessment of HMRC’s performance in section 4, and a commentary on HMRC’s performance against each Charter Standard in appendix 3. To inform this assessment this year, the group conducted a survey of their members to gather feedback on how HMRC performed against the Charter. While this survey did not use a representative sample of HMRC’s full customer base, and predominately reflects the views of tax agents, it is a valuable source of feedback and insight

In addition, because understanding and improving customer experience is so important, HMRC uses a wide range of data sources to obtain feedback and insight from its customers on how it is performing. These include customer experience surveys (which customers are invited to complete when they have used HMRC’s digital or telephony services) and structured independent annual surveys commissioned by HMRC. These are referred to throughout this report with a detailed summary published at HMRC Charter performance indicators.

2. Customer Experience Committee summary of HMRC’s performance and progress in embedding the Charter during 2022 to 2023

During 2022 to 2023 the Customer Experience Committee continued to support and constructively challenge HMRC to ensure the customer and the Charter standards remain at the heart of its transformation plans and that changes to services, processes and guidance deliver measurable improvements in overall customer experience.

HMRC’s work to improve customer experience extends beyond the provision of customer service and managing HMRC’s performance levels. We are pleased with the continued improvements HMRC made to the way it communicates with customers, improving the clarity and accuracy of guidance and letters to make it easier for customers to get things right. For example, by improving over 500 direct communication products, making over 3,000 updates to guidance on GOV.UK and developing new interactive guidance, such as a PAYE starter checklist, which achieved a user satisfaction rate of 89%.

We are also pleased with the progress HMRC made to move towards a more customer-focused culture, for example, by continuing to embed its Compliance Professional Standards into its compliance work and by introducing a new Charter learning package to help all colleagues in HMRC understand how they can use the Charter in their day-to-day work.

The Committee noted the strong action HMRC took to protect customers and build trust. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to raise customer awareness of its standard for agents to protect customers who can feel misled by agents specialising in claiming tax refunds. HMRC also developed core communications campaigns that helped customers to understand their eligibility to claim allowances such as the Marriage Tax allowance and supported the cross-government Help for Households campaign.

This year the Committee has been pleased to support HMRC as it moves towards digitising services, recognising the potential benefits for both customers and in turn the organisation. Committee members recognise both the importance and the significance of this challenge given the size and breadth of HMRC services, and that change at this scale will take time. We can already see strong progress being made. In particular, the Committee advised HMRC on its work to design and develop a single customer account which will enable customers in the future to view all their tax information online and make it easier for them to change their personal details and request their National Insurance number.

Whilst HMRC is making good progress to embed its Charter standards, the Committee recognises there is a contrast with the feedback from customers who directly interact with HMRC by phone and post. The surveys noted in this report and the important feedback from the Independent Adjudicator and Charter Stakeholder Group are largely reflective of phone and post performance levels. The Committee was especially concerned by the low scoring results and feedback from the Charter Stakeholder Group for the Charter standards of being responsive, making things easy and getting things right.

Results from HMRC’s annual customer surveys found no statistically significant change from the previous year in the proportion of customers (across all customer segments) rating their overall experience in dealing with HMRC positively. In line with the Charter Stakeholder Group’s feedback, the number of agents negatively rating their experience with HMRC increased. However, the Committee was encouraged by the increased numbers of individual customers moving to online only and the corresponding improvement in their customer experience.

Broader insight shows that customers using HMRC’s digital services have a more positive experience – and one that meets the Charter standards that HMRC aspires to. For example, 81% of customers providing feedback on their experience of their personal tax account were satisfied with the service and around 80% of businesses using Making Tax Digital compatible software to file their VAT returns found the process easy.

The Committee therefore strongly supports HMRC’s plan to offer more and better online services that simplify things for customers, remove the causes of unnecessary customer contact, and improve compliance. Recognising the positive experience customers who interact digitally with HMRC already have, the Committee has settled on its priorities for 2023 to 2024 (as detailed in section 5) to ensure HMRC can advance the changes needed to deliver a service that meets rapidly changing customer needs and economic circumstances, while achieving its vision to become a trusted, modern tax and customs department.

Overview of HMRC’s performance against the Charter

Customer experience and digital services

Use of HMRC’s digital channels is increasing fast – HMRC’s digital personal and business tax accounts, and the HMRC app, were accessed 198.7 million times in 2022 to 2023, compared with 61.6 million in 2016 to 2017. When customers use these online services, satisfaction is generally high at around 80% – indicating the ease and speed with which they meet customer needs.

Most of HMRC’s customers are able to use digital channels with many reporting a better experience by being able to access their information at a time and place that suits them. For example:

  • during 2022 to 2023 15.9 million customers logged into their personal tax account, using the service 94 million times, an increase of 14% since 2021 to 2022, with 81% of the 3 million customers completing a survey of their experience saying they were satisfied with the service

  • the business tax account was accessed 48 million times by 5.7 million users during 2022 to 2023 – an increase of 5% since 2021 to 2022, with 78% of the 787,000 customers providing feedback saying they were satisfied with the service

  • nearly 2 million VAT-registered businesses are now using Making Tax Digital compatible software to file their tax returns with around 80% of businesses commenting that they found this process easy

  • there has been an increase in usage of the HMRC mobile app with a 48% increase in users in 2022 to 2023 compared to the previous year, 2.3 million users logged into the HMRC mobile app a total of 56.5 million times, customers rate the app highly, with a current rating of 4.8 stars out of 5 (App store) and 4.7 stars out of 5 (Google play store)

For customers who are unable to access and use online services (digitally excluded customers), HMRC will always provide a service to meet their needs as part of its principles of support for customers who need extra help. HMRC is committed to meeting its obligations under the Equality Act 2010, this includes providing reasonable adjustments for disabled customers to ensure no one is disadvantaged. HMRC will continue to work closely with the voluntary and community sectors and provide grant funding to enable them to support customers.

HMRC’s overall customer experience

Each year HMRC commissions independent customer surveys for 5 customer groups; Individuals, Small Businesses, Agents, Mid-sized Businesses and Large Businesses. These surveys provide an important source of evidence on customer experience and perceptions of the tax administration system. Further details of these survey results are published at HMRC Charter performance indicators.

The proportions of customers rating their overall experience of interacting positively with HMRC in 2022 were:

  • 65% of Individuals (62% in 2021)
  • 74% of Small Businesses (76% in 2021)
  • 52% of Mid-sized Businesses (57% in 2021)
  • 81% of Large Businesses (83% in 2021)
  • 45% of Agents (48% in 2021)

Customer experience of HMRC’s telephony channels

The majority of HMRC’s customers do not need to telephone HMRC to manage their affairs. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC issued 3.7 million surveys to customers after they had called HMRC, of the 1 million surveys completed, 54% of customers were satisfied with the experience they received.

Customer experience of HMRC’s digital channels

In contrast to telephony, HMRC knows that customers using digital services have a significantly more positive experience. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC issued 22.8 million surveys to customers using digital channels, of the 7.8 million surveys completed over 82% were satisfied with their experience – indicating the ease and speed with which these services met their needs.

Overview of HMRC’s work to improve customer experience in line with the Charter Standards

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to focus on improving customer experience by delivering against the Charter standards, supported by the 2022 to 2023 priorities of the Customer Experience Committee noted in last year’s report, which were:

  • keeping the customer view at the forefront of HMRC’s short, medium and long-term transformation activities, such as developing a single customer account

  • continuing to build improvements to the way HMRC communicates and interacts with customers, and learning from the successful changes introduced through 2021 to 2022

  • continuing efforts to bring the Charter standards to life across the organisation and strengthening HMRC’s focus on improving customer experience

  • quantifying the improvements to customer experience and putting in place measures to demonstrate the effectiveness of HMRC activity in tackling the systemic drivers of a poor customer experience

The next section sets out the important work HMRC did during 2022 to 2023 to improve customer experience and how that work links to the Charter standards.

Ensuring customer experience remains at the forefront of HMRC’s transformation activities

Charter standards: Getting things right; Making things easy; Being responsive; Keeping data secure

The most effective way of ensuring everyone pays the right tax is through the overall design of the tax system. HMRC’s approach is to make it easier for customers to pay their taxes by making it hard to make errors or to avoid or evade tax.

With the continued challenges of budget pressures, inflation, and an increasing number of customers requiring active management in the tax system, it is vital that HMRC continues to transform its services so that more customers self-serve using digital services.

Over the next few years, HMRC’s customers will have more of the tax system at their fingertips as they will be able to access more services at a time and place convenient to them, using HMRC’s digital channel on the web or via the HMRC mobile app. Through improved online customer accounts, building on the foundations of work through 2022 to 2023; and new software that talks directly to HMRC’s systems, the process of record-keeping and accounting will operate closer to real time.

This will make it much easier for customers to review and manage their tax affairs, reduce unnecessary contact through traditional adviser-led phone and post channels, and to pay the right amount of tax at the right time.

Continued development and delivery of transformation programmes

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to build the foundations for a new, simple and secure, personalised service which will enable customers to view all their information and tell HMRC about any changes of circumstances online. During 2023 to 2024 HMRC will regularly add new features to this service, for example enabling customers to change their personal details and request their National Insurance Number online.

In November 2022 filing tax returns via software became the norm for HMRC’s VAT customers. Independent evidence shows this approach is reducing avoidable errors in tax returns and making it quicker and easier for businesses to manage their tax affairs. In 2022 to 2023, more than 8 million VAT returns were successfully submitted using Making Tax Digital-compatible software that talks directly to our systems. This included over 99% of returns from businesses over the £85,000 threshold, and 98% from those under the threshold.

Initiatives to encourage more customers to access existing digital services

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to add services to its mobile app and promote it to customers as an easy way of managing their tax affairs. The HMRC mobile app was logged into around 57 million times during 2022 to 2023 with customers using this service to view their PAYE tax code and annual tax summary, pay their Self Assessment liabilities, manage details for tax credits and Child Benefit and use a tax calculator. HMRC is continuing to expand the range of services accessible on the HMRC mobile app. During 2023 to 2024 Child Benefit services will be added, meaning customers can view proof of their entitlement and update their bank details without needing to call or write to HMRC.

HMRC previously provided an online Time to Pay service for Self Assessment customers (for debts up to £30,000 spread over 12 months). HMRC extended this service to include Employers PAYE in November 2022 (for debts up to £15,000 spread over 6 months). The service enables customers to set up a Time to Pay instalment arrangement without having to call HMRC. In the last 2 years, over half of all Self Assessment Time to Pay arrangements were set up online.

Reducing the need for customers to contact HMRC by simplifying customer journeys and removing the causes of unnecessary contact

When developing and improving services, HMRC uses Customer Journeys to analyse its end-to-end experience and gain a customer perspective of what it’s like to interact and engage with HMRC.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC focussed on helping and encouraging customers to access existing digital services through a range of activities which included:

  • expanding the use of digital assistants (which help customers to find the information they are looking for), and then linking customers to a webchat adviser if they need additional help; around 66% of customers who use the assistant don’t need further support

  • starting a trial of sending a direct website link by text message to customers who phone HMRC (using a smart phone) with simple, routine queries like finding out their reference number or resetting a password, these text messages direct customers to the most appropriate area of GOV.UK to self-serve, leaving telephony advisers free to handle more complex queries

  • replacing telephone helpline numbers used on letters with QR (quick response) codes, these encourage customers to review the relevant guidance on GOV.UK and link to digital assistants rather than contacting HMRC by phone

  • expanding customer access to an online performance dashboard which enables customers (and their agents) to check current service levels and processing times, reducing the need to contact HMRC to check the progress of their case

  • amending the Personal Tax Account and P87 application form (to claim Income Tax relief for employment expenses) to include full Employer Reference Number, this encourages customers to access their Personal Tax Account and online P87 service rather than authorising a repayment agent to act on their behalf

  • streamlining insolvency processes by introducing a dedicated mailbox and structured contact form, which enables insolvency practitioners to request essential case information digitally rather than phoning multiple helplines

  • introducing an online service for Limited Companies, Partnerships and Public Bodies to apply for a certificate of residence rather than writing to HMRC

Improvements and simplifications to the customs system

As the UK’s customs authority, HMRC contributes to wider government economic aims by helping trade to stimulate economic growth, while making it easy for customers to fulfil their tax and customs duty obligations. HMRC has an essential role in delivering this by ensuring the UK’s customs regime provides a quality, data led service for customers that continues to innovate, is digital in nature, and simplifies customer experience.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC progressed work to migrate trade from the 30 year old Customs Handling Import Export Freight (CHIEF) platform to the Customs Declaration Service (CDS) with over 98% of import declarations now being submitted using the service. HMRC is continuing to support customers through this change, with the focus now on moving export declarations to CDS.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC also maintained an important collaborative role in developing the government’s Target Operating Model for the UK border, setting out a roadmap for new import controls and technological transformation. The Single Trade Window will make things easier for customers to get things right by enabling them to meet their border obligations by submitting information once and in one place. Delivery of the Single Trade Window will be phased, with the first services being available in late 2023 and early 2024.

HMRC continues to support traders moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in line with the UK’s commitments to deliver the Windsor Framework.
Replacing the Northern Ireland Protocol, this agreement provides a new legal framework to ensure free-flowing trade in goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, through a new virtual ‘green lane’ arrangement.

HMRC will deliver the Windsor Framework in multiple phases, with Phase 1 delivery being prioritised currently.

A suite of engagement, consultation and policy changes were announced at Spring Budget 2023 that will develop progressive policy simplifications, exploit technology and make it easier for customers to comply. These changes will begin to be implemented in 2023 with others from 2024 to 2025 onwards, focusing on intermediation, reducing requirements and using technology to make requirements on customers easier to manage.

Simplifying the tax system

The government wants the tax system to be simple, fair and to support growth. Simplifying the tax system reduces the time and money businesses and individuals spend on tax administration, helps boost productivity and supports growth. Progress towards these principles can often align, but sometimes there are trade-offs to consider between them.

Following the closure of the Office of Tax Simplification, HMRC and HM Treasury officials were given a clear mandate to focus on simplicity of tax policy design throughout the policy making process and on simplifying existing tax rules and administration. The government has increased direct engagement with business organisations and tax professionals to better understand where problems for businesses and individuals arise, building on existing HMRC evidence and insight. New policy, as well as existing tax rules, will be subject to increased scrutiny to ensure new changes are as easy to administer as possible.

As a first step, Spring Budget announced a consultation to expand the ‘cash basis’ – a simplified way for over 4 million sole traders to calculate and pay their Income Tax – and a systematic review of HMRC guidance and key forms for small businesses, to ensure the tax system is easy for them to understand. Spring Budget also included a discussion document on modernising HMRC’s Income Tax services so taxpayers can quickly and easily manage their own tax affairs online, reducing the need to contact HMRC. This builds on the government’s commitment to make HMRC services simpler and more efficient, for example through introducing a single customer account so taxpayers can interact with all their tax information in one place.

Improving the way HMRC communicates with customers

Charter standards: Getting things right; Making things easy; Being responsive; Being aware of your personal situation

A central principle of the Charter is that HMRC helps customers to meet their tax responsibilities. This means giving customers clear, accurate information, and making communications and guidance easy to read so that customers take the right action, ideally first time.

Improving direct communication with customers

HMRC’s direct customer communications team continued to improve complex letters, emails and factsheets for customers. They improved the clarity, language and tone of over 500 products across at least 50 tax types.

The team has also developed and delivered training for over 11,000 colleagues across HMRC who write to customers as part of their role. This training focuses on the HMRC writing guidelines, which are directly aligned to the Charter commitments.

The team has collaborated across HMRC to instil the guidelines, supporting transformation programmes such as Making Tax Digital and all major campaigns.

They’ve also supported specialist projects in areas such as tax credits for asylum seekers, Child Benefit after the death of a child and Simple Assessment.

Tailored support the team has delivered includes:

  • a project for one-to-many compliance work, which coordinates communications to groups of customers about compliance risk. This involved editing over 60 one-to-many communication products and building a toolkit to create better drafts. This work has received positive feedback from the one-to-many community advisory board, which includes external tax representative bodies

  • ongoing work with Debt Management to update their campaign letters across PAYE, Self Assessment and Corporation Tax. This involved creating tailored letters for 6 new customer segments, split by customer propensity and ability to pay. The letters use behavioural levers to encourage customers to either pay or seek help if they can’t pay

Improving the clarity and ease of access of guidance

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC made over 3,000 updates to GOV.UK and continued work to improve the clarity and ease of access, aligning to both the tax simplification work and the Charter standard of making things easy. This included improving the clarity and ease of access to agent and income tax pages on GOV.UK and the development of new interactive guidance products.

HMRC’s interactive guidance is an innovative approach which enables customers to quickly find the right advice based on their circumstances, and then guides customers through the action they need to take, step-by-step. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC published 13 new interactive guidance products on GOV.UK, achieving an average customer satisfaction score of 82%, which is significantly higher than other guidance products and shows how this interactive approach makes things easier for customers to get things right. For example, a PAYE starter checklist, launched in October 2022, achieved a satisfaction rating of 89% and resulted in a reduction in the use of temporary tax codes compared to the same period of last year.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC launched new guidance on GOV.UK specifically designed to help customers who are registering for Self Assessment or starting their own small business to understand the action they need to take. This guidance included information about the tax reliefs and claimable allowances available to customers and improved interactive guidance to help customers budget for their Self Assessment tax bills. HMRC’s customer lab (team of in-house research specialists) completed qualitative testing of new Self Assessment interactive guidance in advance of the filing deadline to measure the impact this new guidance had on customer experience.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC improved guidance to explain the compliance check process to customers. This included adding 4 new videos to HMRC’s YouTube channel to explain customers’ options for resolving a dispute and what customers can do if they disagree with a HMRC compliance decision.

HMRC also improved feedback routes across 300 technical guidance manuals, used by colleagues, customers and intermediaries, dealing with 81% of feedback within 40 days to make over 3,000 changes to improve the accuracy and clarity of content since 2021.

Supporting colleagues to develop writing skills

An important part of HMRC’s approach to improve the way it communicates with customers is the ongoing support provided to colleagues to improve the tone, clarity and empathy of the individual letters and emails they write to customers.

During 2022 to 2023 over 11,000 colleagues completed e-learning activities (relevant to their roles) to improve their writing skills and over 1,500 colleagues attended learning sessions.

External communication campaigns

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC launched and delivered the commitments set out in its communications plan, directly supporting customers to get things right through core campaigns and other activities. HMRC’s communication campaigns:

  • helped to achieve a record 97% of Self Assessment returns to be filed on time

  • supported delivery of 2.2 million cost of living payments to Tax Credit customers totalling £700 million

  • underpinned the migration to the new Customs Declaration Service with 98% of import declarations now being submitted using the new software

  • achieved a 48% increase in users of the HMRC mobile app in 2022 to 2023, compared to the previous year

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC also supported the cross-government Help for Households campaign which included communicating through third parties, such as Money Saving Expert and Netmums and using digital platforms such as Spotify, to reach a wide base of customers who might be eligible for support towards cost of living expenses. For example, using the Money Saving Expert’s top tips email, HMRC reached 10 million subscribers to explain Marriage Allowance, Tax-free Childcare and Child Benefit. At points in the campaign, this resulted in a 116% increase in referrals for Tax Free Childcare, an 84% increase in visits to the eligibility criteria for Marriage Allowance and a return to pre-pandemic levels of take up of Child Benefit for one-year-olds.

During 2023 to 2024 HMRC intends to build on this success, with ambitious plans to support its digital transformation through communication and ensure customers can interact with HMRC in the way which is the most appropriate to their needs, while continuing to support the Charter.

Continuing efforts to embed the Charter standards, build capability and move to a more customer focused culture

Charter standards: All

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to embed the Charter into its standards and processes and improve the quality of its customer interactions by supporting colleagues to build their capability. These activities included:

  • establishing a programme of work to further embed HMRC’s Compliance Professional Standards into its compliance work – this focused on identifying the main issues that impact on the quality of service provided to customers during compliance activity and putting in place actions to mitigate those issues by developing products to support learning and improve colleague capability

  • developing a new Service Excellence Programme to embed and sustain a culture of service excellence across HMRC by driving consistently stronger service delivery aligned to customer expectations and the Charter, while using continuous improvement tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness – HMRC plans to mobilise this programme of work to customer services colleagues during 2023 to 2024

  • supporting colleagues to improve their writing skills by developing new tailored learning packages (based on colleagues’ roles) to improve the tone, clarity and empathy of the individual letters and emails they write to customers

  • introducing a new Charter learning package to help all colleagues in HMRC understand how they can use the Charter in their day-to-day work, and their role in helping HMRC meet its Public Sector Equality Duty and feel more confident when making decisions on what support they can provide for customers who need extra help

  • introducing Deaf Awareness training to all HMRC colleagues

Results from a survey of HMRC colleagues during 2022 to 2023 suggest that 78% of colleagues know about the Charter and 37% believe it influences their work, which is a 4% increase on the year before for both results. While HMRC recognises there is still more to do to embed the Charter and move towards a more customer focused culture, these results show HMRC’s progress to embed the Charter standards across the organisation.

During 2023 to 2024 HMRC will continue to develop colleagues and leadership capability by ensuring business plans and decision making align to the Charter standards and progressing recommendations from the Customer Experience Committee to build the Charter standards into performance management and other internal processes to drive a change in culture.

Quantifying the improvements to customer experience and putting in place measures to demonstrate the effectiveness of HMRC activity in tackling the systemic drivers of a poor customer experience

Charter standards: All

This was a new priority Customer Experience Committee identified for this year. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued its work to develop new measures which use data from areas such as customer survey responses (when customers have used services), complaints and the outcome of litigation and statutory reviews to gain a rounded view of performance and identify the key themes impacting on customers. Activities included:

  • improving external measurement of customer experience by building on existing measures to create a more rounded view of performance; for example, by developing proposals to measure customer burdens, how to reduce them and then using this information as the business case for investment

  • using customer experience measures to drive internal performance management, for example, through the introduction of team benchmarks and using a wider suite of measures (such as complaints insight and customer satisfaction surveys) to agree and prioritise work programmes

  • developing analytical tools and capability by expanding the range and use of customer exit surveys and building better, automated management information dashboards to drive improvement in performance

  • using stakeholder feedback and customer insight to inform decision making, for example, using regular customer immersion sessions to influence changes and making better use of insight from complaints to learn from mistakes and put in place improvement actions through structured work programmes

3. Other ways HMRC achieved its Charter Standards

Charter standard: Being aware of your personal situation

HMRC has established processes for providing extra support to customers who may experience difficulties understanding what they need to do as they go through life events, either because of confidence and capability issues when accessing HMRC systems, or due to a disability or mental health concern. HMRC continuously reviews these processes to ensure they meet the needs of customers.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to strengthen the capability of colleagues to identify and support customers who need extra help and improved processes so these customers have a better experience when interacting with HMRC. Activities included:

  • working in partnership with Samaritans to refer customers to a dedicated Samaritans helpline which provides specialist emotional support for customers, and providing HMRC’s Extra Support Teams with additional guidance and coaching techniques to identify customers who might be in vulnerable circumstances

  • improving guidance on GOV.UK to help customers find details of the voluntary and community sector organisations HMRC funds to find extra support

  • reinstating in person appointments with customers who need extra help – these were paused during the pandemic

  • developing new processes to check the free space section on Self Assessment returns to identify customers who tell HMRC they are experiencing difficult circumstances – enabling extra help to be provided

  • integrating the Cabinet Office Debt Management vulnerability toolkit into HMRC’s debt management guidance, to apply industry-standard tools to identify and support customers experiencing vulnerable circumstances

An important part of supporting customers who need extra help and making things easy is ensuring services are accessible for all customers. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to develop its understanding of the barriers some customers may face when accessing digital services, and the practical actions HMRC can take to support customers when designing and improving services.

As HMRC advances changes to the way it approaches customer service and compliance, it remains committed to helping customers with the most complex issues, and those who face barriers to going digital. Reducing the volume of contact through correspondence and adviser-led phone channels will enable HMRC to focus support on those customers with the most complex needs and who need extra support; alongside working in partnership with the voluntary and community sectors.

Handling and learning from customer complaints

Charter standard: Getting things right; treating you fairly

HMRC aims to get services right for customers first time. When customers experience difficulties, HMRC aims to reach the right outcome as quickly as possible by providing an easy and accessible complaints process, acknowledging when it has made a mistake and the customer impact of that mistake, and then learning from this customer feedback.

How HMRC handles and responds to complaints is fundamental to the delivery of the Charter. HMRC greatly values its engagement with the Adjudicator and their feedback helps HMRC to deliver both its strategic objectives and meet Charter standards. Collaboratively working with the Adjudicator to embrace complaints insight as an important learning opportunity supports HMRC’s vision to be a trusted modern tax and customs department.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC received 91,217 new complaints, a 13.7% increase compared to the previous year. Although HMRC’s customer service delivery improved during 2022 to 2023, delays in operational services remained the main theme of complaints received. HMRC’s average response time increased from 29.6 days in 2021 to 2022 to 33.4 days in 2022 to 2023. Although higher than HMRC would like, it did make progress in improving average response times in the final 6 months of the year.

Implementation of HMRC’s complaints strategy supports its ambition to transform its complaints handling approach and to drive forward improvements to meet Charter standards. During 2022 to 2023 HMRC made a number of improvements to its complaint handling approach in line with its strategy which included:

  • delivery of a new complaints handling analytical reporting tool (CHART) to improve the quality of insight gathered from complaints and HMRC’s handling of them, and learning from this insight

  • revising the department’s approach to targets and measures and moving towards complaint handling principles which underpin HMRC’s Charter standards

  • building the capability of HMRC’s complaint handlers and using insight from wider sources of dissatisfaction to increase learning from complaints to improve customer experience

If a customer remains dissatisfied with their decision after referral to the Adjudicator’s Office, they can refer their complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). During 2022 to 2023 HMRC worked in partnership with the PHSO and other government departments to support the development and launch of the PHSO UK Central Government Complaint Standards. These standards provide a single set of principles and guidance for best practice in complaint handling for colleagues across government and provide a benchmark to help leaders learn from complaints.

Recognising someone can represent customers

HMRC’s Charter standards include recognising that customers may want someone else to deal with HMRC on their behalf, such as an accountant, friend or a relative. To protect customers, HMRC works with professional bodies to set the standard expected of professional agents who support customers to meet their tax obligations.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued to raise awareness of its standard for agents, both externally and with HMRC colleagues. Activities included:

  • adding references to the standard in a range of emails and letters to agents and to all tax agent toolkits published on GOV.UK

  • engaging with the agent community (including professional bodies) to publicise the standard, for example, through information emails and at stakeholder forums

  • contributing to press articles on subjects such as gift aid, charity and stamp duty to raise customer awareness of the standard

  • raising colleague awareness of the standard by developing introductory information videos, a programme of engagement events and new learning packages

  • improving external guidance for agents to make processes easier to follow, and publishing new guidance for taxpayers thinking about using an agent to help them avoid malicious or incompetent agents

During 2022 HMRC launched the consultation ‘Raising standards in tax advice: protecting customers claiming tax repayments’. The response (published in January 2023) sets out the actions HMRC will take to prevent exploitative repayment agents from avoiding scrutiny while protecting taxpayers.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC continued work to improve services for agents and raise standards in the agent market. Activities included:

  • announcing the end of the use of assignments at Spring Budget 2023 and the requirement for repayment agents to register with HMRC at Tax Administration and Maintenance Day in April 2023

  • working with agents and professional bodies on raising standards in the agent market

  • committing to further consultation about improving the regulatory framework in the tax advice market, which will contribute towards raising standards and help prevent malicious or incompetent agents undermining the valuable work carried out by the majority of agents

  • building new digital services to let agents see and do what their clients require, ‘Income Record Viewer’ is a simple, digital process which gives agents self-serve access to their client’s PAYE information, allowing agents to get on with their work without needing to contact HMRC or their clients

During 2023 to 2024 HMRC will explore how to improve the ways that customers can authorise an agent to act on their behalf in their tax affairs. HMRC plans to develop a digital solution to make customers’ and agents’ interaction with HMRC easier while providing a secure UK GDPR compliant process. HMRC will continue to engage with agents to co-design new services which work for taxpayers, agents, and HMRC.

Keeping customers’ data secure

HMRC remains committed to achieving compliance with data protection laws to fully protect its data, including the personal data of customers and the workforce. HMRC holds vast amounts of data, which is vital to its core functions, and has significant responsibilities to ensure it holds this data in a way that is secure, appropriate, protected and meets the requirements of the law. HMRC continues to record, report, address and learn from all data-related incidents involving HMRC data, reporting incidents to the Information Commissioner and any individuals concerned as required.

During 2021 to 2022 HMRC’s Chief Data Officer assessed HMRC’s position against the Information Commissioners Accountability Framework, identifying areas where remedial action was needed to meet the framework. Priority activities identified included improving system compliance, introducing data governance tooling, implementing a proactive supplier assurance regime and undertaking business process mapping to identify data risks.

During 2022 to 2023 HMRC improved data management by enhancing the prevention of unauthorised access to systems and applications and remediating systems to improve its ability to delete, suppress or stop the processing of personal data. HMRC also introduced a more proactive supplier assurance regime to ensure suppliers meet data protection and security expectations. The department delivered the totality of its data protection improvement plans during the financial year, and remains committed to further remediation activity into 2023 to 2024 and beyond.

4. Overall independent assessments

Independent Adjudicator

We reported last year on how well we think HMRC is doing embedding the Charter. Broadly speaking we said that it was difficult to say with authority – or indeed with good evidence – how we thought HMRC was doing; we saw some good practice certainly. But to do the question justice, we would need to devote more time to this important subject.

Since then, we have had the opportunity to give more thoughtful enquiry. In the summer of 2022, we presented a paper to HMRC’s Executive Committee (ExCom) that, broadly speaking, posed the question; should the Adjudicator’s Office have a clear role in holding HMRC to account with regard to the Charter. The answer was a clear yes.

We took that seriously, recognising that to give this the emphasis required we would need to change too. In effect we have re-structured the Adjudicator’s Office to ensure that we have the right people and resource to shine a bright light on the Charter.

In doing so we have changed the way we report; including a quarterly report on casework issues where practice is compared against the Charter standards. We also used the lens of the Charter to deliver our first thematic report on premature complaints, which are complaints which have either not been through or have failed to complete HMRC’s internal complaint process. In drafting these new reports, we have accessed a significant amount of data and evidence to reasonably comment on how HMRC is doing.

The executive summary is, in effect, that Charter adherence we see across frontline service, through complaint teams into senior leadership is patchy. In HMRC’s compliance work we perceive a clear senior leadership strategy where the Charter is given prominence. The evidence of that is in the way – as we understand it – all of their people have translated their roles and objectives against the Charter principles through the Compliance Professional Standards.

Furthermore, the evidence of action on practice was highlighted in our premature complaints report. Although compliance complaints are significantly fewer than customer services by the nature of what they do, we still see very few cases where a failing by a compliance team, for example due to a delay, led to a premature complaint. Compliance teams have prioritised post-covid complaints recovery in a thoughtful and considered way and are on track to meet service standards.

The evidence of similar activity in HMRC’s customer services work is not as clear. The vast majority of premature complaints come from this area and recovery has been pushed back a number of times. It does not seem to us that resource is prioritised, meaning customers wait considerably longer than they should. The evidence of this was moving complaint resource to support the Self-Assessment peak at a time when wait times were already excessive.

Our evidence also points to those who then come to us prematurely as being disproportionately vulnerable – financially or otherwise. In simple terms the Charter standards are not being met strategically and this translates into the evidence we have seen of negative customer experience in some areas of HMRC.

We have seen in HMRC’s Customer Strategy and Tax Design activities a strong desire to put the Charter at the centre of HMRC’s work. But there are finite levers they can pull to ensure that words equate to action.

We cannot see that senior leaders at SCS grades across HMRC have a consistent objective to place the Charter at the heart of their operational and strategic decision-making; meaning we see the type of inconsistent activity discussed above.

For these reasons our conclusion is that Charter implementation and adherence is not uniformly consistent, despite concerted efforts in some areas.

Our view of Charter adherence and implementation is broadly limited to those directorates that deal with or have responsibility for complaints. So, it is difficult to comment beyond those areas. However, we do see the Trust Agenda highlighted at the Customer Experience Committee as synonymous with the Charter and we recommend that similar prominence is given to that. One inevitably follows the other.

Charter Stakeholder Group – see Appendix 3 for representative members

We have considered HMRC’s performance in 2022 to 2023 against its Charter. To provide evidence-based feedback, we undertook a survey of agents and taxpayers during February 2023. We received 938 responses in total, including 732 from agents, and 184 from individual and business taxpayers.

In the survey we asked respondents to give a score out of 10 for HMRC’s performance against each of the Charter standards, with 1 being the lowest possible score and 10 being the highest. We also asked, for each standard, what does HMRC perform well, and what could they improve. A high level of engagement was displayed by those completing the survey, with over 9,400 freeform comments, and respondents taking an average of nearly five and a half minutes to provide their responses. We have shared the full results of the survey with HMRC.

As with last year’s report, complaints about HMRC’s service levels permeate the feedback we have received. ‘Being responsive’ scored the lowest of the Charter standards, with an average score of just 2.3 out of 10. ‘Making things easy’ and ‘getting things right’ scored slightly higher, but still poorly, at 2.7 and 3.4 respectively. Indeed, these 3 standards are by far the lowest scoring, which is disappointing as between them they represent the ‘health’ of the tax system. Many respondents expressed an appetite to work collaboratively to help improve services and achieve the Charter aims.

The remaining 5 standards typically address the context in which HMRC operates, and these scores are higher, particularly around mutual respect and data security, the latter scoring the highest average score in the survey of 6.5.

Our survey also addressed awareness of the Charter, and HMRC’s accountability against it. Just over 75% of respondents were aware of the HMRC Charter, though awareness was much greater amongst agents (80%) than taxpayers (56%). We are aware of the steps being taken by HMRC to embed the Charter among its staff, and the results indicate that more needs to be done to promote the Charter to its customers.

Over 85% of respondents do not think that HMRC is held sufficiently accountable for its performance against the Charter. This percentage was higher among agents (88%) than taxpayers (79%). Two themes emerged from the freeform comments. Firstly, whether there is sufficient internal accountability within HMRC (for example, whether the performance of HMRC staff is adequately managed). Second, that there is no external accountability for HMRC against the Charter. One comment largely sums up the mood among respondents:

“There are no consequences if HMRC gets things wrong. They hold taxpayers and agents to much higher standards than they hold themselves and there is little or no recourse for the extensive costs and time-wasting caused by HMRC incompetence and delays. They should be held to the same standards (deadlines) and pay compensation when they get things wrong – this might focus their minds and make them try to do things better. At the moment, there is no incentive for them to improve at all!”

5. Customer Experience Committee priorities for 2023 to 2024

The Committee recognises the customer service and economic challenges that HMRC continues to face in the coming year, as well as the opportunity for HMRC to offer more and better online services to simplify the experience for customers. HMRC’s ambition is to reduce the volume of customer contact through correspondence and adviser-led phone channels by 30% by 2025, enabling many more customers to resolve their issues quickly and easily online.

During 2023 to 2024 the Committee will therefore continue to advise HMRC on its digital transformation as its overarching priority; and will continue to guide and constructively challenge HMRC as it advances changes to the way it approaches customer service and compliance.

The Committee will focus on the design and delivery of a single customer account, ensuring it improves the end-to-end customer experience of HMRC and is exploited to its maximum benefit across HMRC.

In addition, the Committee will ensure this digital transformation is underpinned by:

  • a customer experience dashboard that provides multi-channel customer insight, providing a holistic picture of customer experience at an aggregate level

  • improved customer communications and guidance to ensure customers choose to use HMRC’s digital services

  • embedding of the Charter standards into all of HMRC’s decision making

The Committee will also support the HMRC Board in other deep dives related to customer experience improvement throughout the year as necessary.

This is an exciting time for HMRC to grasp big opportunities to transform customer experience and it will be fully supported by the continued advice from the Committee, the Adjudicator and ongoing feedback from the Charter Stakeholder Group.

Appendix 1: HMRC Charter

Working with you to get tax right

HMRC is here to collect the tax that pays for the UK’s public services.

We’ll help you meet your tax responsibilities and make sure you get any benefits, tax credits, refunds or other support you can claim. However, we will take firm action against the small minority who bend or break the law.

Our standards

Getting things right

We’ll give you accurate, consistent and clear information. This will help you meet your obligations and understand your rights and what you can claim. When we ask for information, we rely on you to give us full, accurate and timely answers. If you disagree with us, we’ll tell you about options available to you and work with you to reach an appropriate outcome quickly and simply.

Making things easy 

We’ll provide services that are designed around what you need to do, and are accessible, easy and quick to use, minimising the cost to you.

Being responsive

When you get in touch with us, we’ll make sure that the people you deal with have the right level of expertise. We’ll answer your questions and resolve things first time, or as quickly as we can. We’ll also explain what happens next and when you can expect a response from us. If we make a mistake, we’ll put it right as soon as possible. If you’re not satisfied with the service you’ve received, we’ll explain how you can make a complaint.

Treating you fairly

We’ll work within the law to make sure everyone pays the right amount of tax and gets their benefits and other entitlements. We’ll assume you’re telling the truth, unless we’ve good reason to think you’re not.

Being aware of your personal situation

We’ll listen to your worries and answer any questions clearly and concisely. We’ll be mindful of your wider personal situation, and will give you extra support if you need it.

Recognising that someone can represent you

We’ll respect your wish to have someone else deal with us on your behalf, such as an accountant, friend or a relative. We’ll only deal with them if you have authorised them to represent you. To protect you, HMRC works with professional bodies to set the standard expected of professional agents who support you to meet your tax obligations. We can refuse to work with professional agents who fail to adhere to this standard.

Keeping your data secure

We’ll protect information we hold about you and treat it as private and confidential. We’ll always use that information fairly and lawfully.

Mutual respect

We take any threats, intimidation or harassment very seriously and will take appropriate action against any behaviour of this type. We’ll always treat you in line with our values of respect, professionalism and integrity. Our employees are people too and we expect you to treat them in the same way.

Appendix 2: Customer Experience Committee

The Customer Experience Committee assists the Commissioners of HMRC in their statutory obligation to report annually on the extent to which HMRC has demonstrated the standards of behaviour and values included in the HMRC Charter and complies with the legal obligation to periodically review the content.

The purpose of the Committee is to support and challenge ExCom on customer experience-related issues and to help the department deliver on its strategic objectives.

The Committee does this by:

  • challenging and supporting HMRC to tackle high level risks to the department

  • examining planned changes to ensure that the impact on customers has been sufficiently considered

  • providing advice on how relevant policies, strategies and practices can be improved

  • identifying priority areas in the end-to-end customer experience where improvements are necessary

Customer Experience Committee membership

Representatives from HMRC’s executive on the Committee are the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Second Permanent Secretary, Angela MacDonald, the Director General of Transformation, Joanna Rowland and the Director General of Customer Strategy and Tax Design, Jonathan Athow. HMRC’s Independent Adjudicator is also member.

The Committee also includes Non-Executive Directors (including the Chair) and Independent Advisers who have relevant expertise that contributes to its work.

Below is a list of the Non-Executive Directors of HMRC and independent advisers making up the Customer Experience Committee, along with positions they hold and their experience.

Name Current positions and experience
Juliette Scott (Current Chair) Juliette is currently a Non-Executive Director for HMRC. She is also a Non-Executive Board Member at Versus Arthritis (formerly known as Arthritis Research UK) and provides advisory services through her consultancy business. Juliette was previously at eBay – firstly on the Board of eBay UK as the Director of Customer Insight, and latterly was responsible for customer insight and analytics across Europe. Juliette was introduced into the world of data insight through her time at dunnhumby where she worked in senior roles across many areas of the Tesco business.
Michael Hearty Michael Hearty is a Non-Executive Director at HMRC. He is a highly experienced, professionally qualified, senior manager with extensive strategic and operational leadership experience in 2 large and complex UK government departments: the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, the latter at Board level. More recently, he spent 5 years on the Board of the Welsh Government, the executive arm of devolved government in Wales, where he provided strategic advice, challenge and support directly to both the First Minister and Finance Minister for Wales on a range of strategic and finance matters. Widely respected for integrity, strategic insight and pragmatism, with particular strengths in transformational change, leadership development and partnership working, Michael is also an experienced non-executive director, having advised high profile organisations such as the Department of Health and Public Health England. Michael was a member of CIPFA’s Council for 4 years and is currently a member of the CIPFA Standards and Financial Reporting Board.
Steven Martin Steven is an independent adviser on HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee. He is currently Vice President of Data Partnerships Europe and APAC at The Trade Desk following his recent move from LiveRamp, where he was Managing Director of International Data. His role focuses on helping clients to make the most of both their own customer data and other data they can access about their customers from partners and suppliers.
Emma Orr Emma is an independent adviser on the Customer Experience Committee at HMRC. She developed an expert career in digital in the early 2000s by helping disrupted industries and global brands, such as Prudential (Finance) and Hearst (Publishing), adapt to the new online world. Emma then moved into e-commerce in 2008, leading customer growth at and then at The John Lewis Partnership. With an obvious passion for digital transformation, Emma joined Google in 2014 as an advisor to multinational private companies, first on Data Regulation and SaaS solutions and now leading Customer Experience for Google Cloud technology.
Mark Evans Mark is an independent adviser on the Customer Experience Committee at HMRC. He previously sat on the Executive Committee of Direct Line Group and was Managing Director for Marketing and Digital. Prior to DLG Mark worked at Mars, 118118 and HSBC in a broad range of Marketing and Commercial roles. Mark combines executive coaching, speaking and consultancy with non-executive director roles for the Marketing Society, Emma3D, Saracens Rugby, The UK Sepsis Trust, and Save the Children. In 2016 he founded the Sprintathon – a charity event which has now raised over £900k for Stand Up To Cancer. As a Fellow of the Marketing Society and of the Marketing Academy, in 2018 Mark was awarded the Marketing Society Leader of the Year award.
Nicola Harris Nicola Harris an independent adviser on the Customer Experience Committee at HMRC and Virgin Media O2’s Head of Customer Journeys. Nicola is responsible for the customer experience of the O2 and Virgin Media brands and for defining the UK customer experience strategy for cable, TV, Broadband and mobile services. In 2019, Nicola was appointed to the Leadership team for Telefonica (O2) UK Limited as Customer Experience Lead with responsibility for all consumer and small business experiences across multiple channels; digital, voice, store and messaging platforms. She joined Telefonica (O2) UK Limited in 2001 and has held many roles across strategic, operational and innovation functions in Sales, Service and Marketing divisions. Nicola was awarded the Customer Experience Leader of the Year award in 2021 by UK CXA, alongside awards for building a Customer Centric Culture and Putting Customers at the Heart of the Business. She also sits on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion network for Virgin Media O2.
Karen Prodger Karen Prodger is an independent adviser on the Customer Experience Committee at HMRC. Karen brings 20 years of experience, leading scale teams across global organisations, researching customer propositions, delivering seamless customer experiences and journeys, transforming digital operations, building technical and customer talent. She recently joined Halfords as Senior Director, leading Customer Strategy and Experience, Marketing and Digital across Group. Before this, she headed Digital Transformation for Vodafone, including strategy, experience and delivery. Karen has a deep Consulting background supporting Global Organisations undergoing strategic change and across Financial Service and Barclays, driving innovative, inclusive propositions for customer segments. She’s been Accountable Exec for top digital investment programmes, radically simplifying Mortgage, Lending and Collections experience.

Appendix 3: Charter Stakeholder Group

Charter Stakeholder Group members

Charter Stakeholder Group Comments against each Charter Standard

Getting things right

Overall, HMRC received a poor score against this standard; an average of 3.4 out of 10, with agents scoring HMRC marginally higher than taxpayers.

There was some praise for specialist helplines and the agent dedicated line. Information on GOV.UK was praised by some for its clarity and the fact that it helps people who have simple tax affairs. There was also acknowledgement that many letters and communications from HMRC set out key deadlines and taxpayer rights clearly.

However, the view from the majority of respondents was that HMRC was not doing anything well under this standard. The accuracy of guidance and information provided by HMRC continues to raise significant concerns, particularly among the agent population who can most readily tell when the information is incorrect. However, the issue is most acute for taxpayers, who often automatically assume information from HMRC is correct.

Areas where HMRC could improve were several, but there were many agents and taxpayers noting that HMRC could be much more timely in their responses. This issue is perhaps exacerbated by the tight deadlines HMRC often imposes on taxpayers and agents. The other key area for improvement is consistency of information and answers provided, particularly when agents or taxpayers are asking for assistance over the telephone.

In summary, while there are instances of agents and taxpayers receiving clear and accurate information from HMRC, these are far and away outweighed by the negative experiences reported in relation to this standard.

Making things easy

The HMRC Charter commitment to Making things easy was the second worst performing area with an average score of 2.7 out of 10, with agents scoring HMRC marginally lower than taxpayers. A significant 38% of respondents scored HMRC 1 out of 10 in respect of their performance.

Respondents highlighted that HMRC performs well for taxpayers with simple affairs and where processes can be undertaken online, particularly when agents are provided with the relevant functionality. Otherwise, getting a response and action via correspondence or telephone can be extremely difficult and time consuming, even for simple issues. More digital functionality to self-serve, along with improvements to GOV.UK online forms and guidance, are needed.

It was clear from the comments made that it was impossible to separate the poor response times from other initiatives undertaken by HMRC, which will continue to lack impact until service levels are significantly improved. HMRC’s poor service levels, the lack of timely responses and the lack of certainty on response times, dominated the feedback on where HMRC should improve.

Concerns were raised over the lack of joining up of HMRC services (such as Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Self-Assessment reporting), and the Government Gateway registration processes which can create barriers to register for taxes. There was a sense that HMRC makes its own life easy, rather than making life easier for taxpayers and agents, building products from its own perspective rather than that of taxpayers and agents.

The common theme throughout the comments was frustration with the cost of HMRC inefficiencies to taxpayers, agents and HMRC itself. VAT and Research and Development were specifically highlighted as areas where HMRC has little regard as to the impact on the wider business community of delays caused by HMRC processes and the lack of updates.

Being responsive

This was the lowest scoring Charter standard. Respondents scored HMRC an average of 2.3 out of 10, with agents scoring HMRC marginally lower, and taxpayers slightly higher.

Agents were consistently unhappy with the time taken to get a response from HMRC, regardless of communication method used. HMRC’s speed of response was considered inadequate, especially when a referral to a technical colleague was needed because the initial HMRC operative lacked the technical expertise to answer their question or resolve their issue. These referrals “can take months if you get one”, or might be left indefinitely without a response if not proactively chased, and you “constantly have to chase HMRC”. As one agent commented, “Responsiveness is HMRC’s biggest challenge.”

Multiple comments mirrored the following complaint: “There are far too many call handlers who never seem to know the answer to a query, put you on hold, then cut you off!” This is particularly concerning if it indicates some operatives are hanging up on difficult queries, as this is costing taxpayers and agents significant time and suggests a lack of oversight and management within the HMRC support infrastructure. If this is instead caused by automatic cut-off after a certain time, this is an indictment of the time taken to respond to calls by a customer-facing organisation.

Agents indicated a generally low level of confidence in HMRC operatives. For simple queries that didn’t require the operative to go ‘off script’, satisfaction from agents seemed generally high. For anything more complex, agents were unsatisfied with the quality and content of the response. One agent commented, “It’s OK when you happen to get through to a fully-trained, experienced HMRC staff member who really knows what they’re doing. But this is the exception rather than the rule.” Another suggested that “HMRC needs to invest in training, so that the employees have a thorough understanding of tax.”

Treating you fairly

Here, HMRC scored an average of 4.8 out of 10, with agents scoring HMRC slightly higher than taxpayers.

We welcome the work undertaken by HMRC’s Compliance Operations Directorate Professionalism and Customer Experience (PaCE) team where new officers are being trained on how to deliver their commitments under HMRC’s Charter. In relation to this standard, officers are encouraged to analyse and evaluate the available information and make reasoned, impartial, judgements based on the law.

We received complimentary feedback about the politeness and helpfulness of individuals, though unfortunately such comments are often caveated with the view that being able to speak to someone in the first place is difficult, and that the front-line staff often lack adequate tax knowledge to be of genuine assistance.

In general, the feedback received was that officers do want to treat taxpayers equally and fairly, and where the points in question are simple and straightforward this is usually the case. However, where more complex issues arise, the view was that officers lacked relevant tax knowledge, and as a result were inconsistent in their application of guidance and legislation to the facts of cases, creating frustration and annoyance.

A theme throughout many of the responses was that officers often gave the impression that they had already decided a taxpayer’s ‘guilt’ before all the available explanations and appropriate information and documentation had been obtained and analysed. An indicative comment being, “Don’t assume that all taxpayers (“customers”) are trying to defraud HMRC.”

Being aware of your personal situation

Respondents scored HMRC an average of 4.1 out of 10, with agents scoring marginally higher, but taxpayers themselves scoring 3.4, thus bringing the average down. The perception of the 103 respondents answering this question as taxpayers was the least favourable, with only 23.3% rating performance above 5 over half rating it as only 1 or 2.

A diverse range of comments was received from taxpayers and agents. While linkages across HMRC appear lacking, and frustration is often experienced when trying to access the right person or service, many respondents acknowledged a willingness to listen in most cases. However, greater consistency may be achieved through better staff training in this area.

Taxpayers in particular emphasised the need for HMRC to be more mindful of their business environment and wider personal situation. Some claimed that delays have had a negative impact on their mental health and, at times, HMRC appears unapologetic for significant delays. Taxpayers who commented on being advised to talk to Samaritans did not regard this as helpful. The perception being that HMRC is more understanding of taxpayers’ mental health issues when dealing with their agents.

Not all responses from HMRC recognise that the taxpayer may not have the same level of understanding of the rules, or even that English may not be the taxpayer’s first language. Some felt that reasonable adjustment in communication could also be made more readily for those with a disability. HMRC’s Extra Support Service generally works well, but some taxpayers who need extra support fail to be recognised as such. Agents, in particular, tend to believe that Time to Pay arrangements work well.

Recognising that someone can represent you

HMRC scored an average of 5.1 out of 10, with agents scoring HMRC slightly higher, and taxpayers slightly lower.

Respondents felt that HMRC did recognise a role for agents and dealing with those who had been properly authorised. However, this was not always reflected in HMRC’s practice, as they did not always contact the appointed agent, in spite of being asked to do so, but communicated directly with the taxpayer, in some cases causing stress. Similarly, agents were not always copied into correspondence sent to their clients.

Fundamentally, it was noted that HMRC has still not delivered its commitment that agents should be able to see and do what their clients can see and do. These gaps can include fundamental steps such as registering for a tax (such as plastic packaging tax).

Agents complained about the multiple different authorisations required for HMRC services and the lack of a joined-up approach to authorisation, particularly where they felt that some of the add-on services should have been covered by an existing authority. This was compounded by ongoing difficulties with the digital handshakes required to authorise agents for many services, and a better way of providing authorisation is needed for the digitally excluded or digitally challenged. Problems were also encountered where taxpayers wanted more than one agent to act for them on different aspects of their tax affairs, because HMRC’s systems often do not accommodate this. Some taxpayers also noted difficulties in appointing friends or family members to deal with HMRC on their behalf.

There was support from agents for the agent dedicated line – but concerns that it was now refusing to deal with some issues, and for the agent online forum, although some complaints about the timeframe for dealing with issues and them being closed down without being adequately dealt with.

Keeping your data secure

Taxpayers and agents generally consider that HMRC is meeting the Charter standard on data security, scoring an average of 6.5 out of 10. Again, agents scored HMRC marginally higher, but taxpayers themselves scoring lower, thus bringing the average down.

Some respondents expressed concern about the additional risks arising from HMRC staff working from home. We received reports of HMRC letters being incorrectly addressed, including being co-enveloped with mail relating to a different taxpayer, or because an address had been incorrectly updated in an HMRC system. Those that were critical usually had a specific experience of their HMRC online account being compromised or some other breach. Most acknowledged the security procedures that HMRC has in place; some thought them to be occasionally excessive. Concerns were expressed over the difficulty that taxpayers and agents have in determining whether a phone call from HMRC is genuine. Some commented negatively about the tax affairs of senior politicians and their families being in the public domain; although HMRC only commented with the specific permission of the individual, there is a risk of a perceived breach of confidentiality.

Mutual respect

Here, HMRC scored an average of 5.4, and again agents scored HMRC marginally higher, but taxpayers themselves scored lower, thus bringing the average down.

Feedback was very mixed. Most taxpayers and agents find call centre and other HMRC staff to be polite, helpful, respectful and doing their best, but this is not always the case. When it is not, it often seems to stem from lack of knowledge or being rushed and unwilling to really listen and understand the issue and refer it appropriately. Too often this leads to poor quality or inaccurate advice. The tone of written communications is sometimes seen as aggressive. The one to many letter from the agent compliance team at the end of 2022 was seen as insulting and patronising.

Criticism was mostly aimed at HMRC as an organisation and its apparent acceptance of poor service performance, rather than at individuals. The long telephone waiting times and the frequency of calls being cut off is seen as disrespectful. The pre-recorded messages on helplines are often seen as patronising. Taxpayers and agents consider the excessive waiting times for responses to written communications to illustrate a lack of respect.

Appendix 4: HMRC Charter performance indicators

Performance against the HMRC Charter is monitored by specific service standards, customer surveys and other data, linked to wider HMRC performance measures. These are set out against each Charter standard and published at HMRC Charter performance indicators.

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