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HMRC 'still failing' UK taxpayers, say Public Accounts Committee

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) believes HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is “still failing” British taxpayers, particularly its quality of customer service, which “could be considered a genuine threat to tax collection”.

In the first half of the year, HMRC’s contact centres successfully answered only half of all calls, with only two-fifths (39 per cent) dealt with within five minutes.

HMRC responded by confirming it had since taken on 3,000 additional staff to assist with customer service, but insisted these issues had not impacted on its ability to recoup outstanding tax owed.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, told the BBC that HMRC must “rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse”.

To put the figure of 50 per cent of all calls successfully answered in H1 2015 into context, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) had been successfully handled back in 2014.

The PAC believes the failure to obtain intelligence on losses from tax avoidance was an obstacle to improved UK tax laws.

HMRC’s record of 11 prosecutions for offshore tax evasion in more than five years has also been described as “woefully inadequate”.

In addition, from a list of 3,600 Britons who were found to have hidden money in Swiss banks, HMRC have so far prosecuted just one person named on that list.

Instead, the tax authority has preferred to offer reduced penalties for those listed to come forward and disclose the money they’ve hidden overseas; something the PAC believes is no substitute for the “deterrent effect” of outright prosecution.

HMRC responded by alluding to its record results, stating the gap between tax due and tax collected had been minimised to one of the lowest in the world.

An HMRC spokesperson added: “We are disappointed that the Public Accounts Committee has overlooked HMRC’s record results, which include collecting a record £517bn in tax revenues.”

Image: Derek Key

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