As many as one in three phone calls to HM Revenue & Customs went unanswered in recent months, prompting an admission that “standards had not been good enough”.
The Revenue has now recruited 3,000 more frontline staff to tackle the lengthy phone queues and busy tones that have frustrated millions trying to contact HMRC about tax credits, codes and bills.
“Despite our best efforts, our call performance hasn’t been up to scratch and we apologise to all those customers who have struggled to get through to us,” said Lin Homer, chief executive.
The Revenue said it was allocating £45m from its spending settlement to pay for 3,000 extra staff to join its 15,000-strong customer service team.
It is also temporarily moving about 2,000 staff from other parts of HMRC to help with the tax credits deadline.
Paul Aplin, a partner at accountants A C Mole & Sons said the number of calls not answered had reached “completely unacceptable levels”.
He spent 40 minutes waiting for the phone to be answered this week. Mr Aplin also had anecdotal evidence of a deterioration in post handling, saying he had recently been told a query would take 10 weeks to answer.
He said the decision to recruit 3,000 extra people was significant, although he warned that they needed to be a long-term addition.
“We will need to see how the new resource impacts on the next few sets of statistics before we can judge whether it is sufficient — it is, however, a very welcome step in the right direction.”
The statistics show that overall 73 per cent of calls were answered last year, short of HMRC’s 80 per cent target.
The performance was particularly bad in September 2014 and January and March this year when under two-thirds of calls were answered.
But people who left their tax affairs to the last minute tended to fare better as priority was given to those with the most immediate deadline. HMRC answered 99.9 per cent of self-assessment calls on January 31 2015 deadline day.
The latest figures mark a setback after a steady improvement in call answering this decade from a low of 48 per cent in 2010-11 until it reached 79 per cent in 2013-14.
HMRC receives more than 60m calls a year, peaking around deadlines such as January 31 for self assessment and July 31 for tax credits renewals.
Ms Homer urged everyone who could use online services to do so. So far this year, 265,000 tax credit customers have renewed online, against 97,000 at the same point last year. Satisfaction rates with the online service were about 80 per cent.
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