I am very disappointed in the service I received from you over the last year or so.
Having taken early retirement last year, I supplemented my pension with a small sole-trader writing work, mainly articles and reviews. I kept a note of all these payments, and when it came to the end of the year and time for me to fill in an online tax return, I read up all your literature. I was a Civil Servant since I was 17, and have drafted legislation, designed forms, and created and published guidance for areas of work far more complicated than our tax system. Try the international reciprocal enforcement of child maintenance for size!
Given that I had been paid by the Government all my full-time working career and had just topped up my monthly pension with a few hundred a month of casual freelance writing, I thought the Tax return completion would be a doddle.
No. I began to correspond with you for a tax rebate as you had taxed my pension as though I was still in full-time employment. I was drawing a pension because I had taken early retirement! There then followed a 10 month long battle to get back from you what you had wrongly taken off me. I will spare you the details, although they should all be there on your files (or perhaps not?) but I was and still am amazed at how incompetent you were.
First of all I never spoke to the same person twice, and on many occasions, after going through a series of menu options, ended up at a different HMRC call-centre; Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Ty-Glas, you name it, I was connected there. And despite them having some basic computer note-pad facility, each time I had to go through my entire case in detail. Plus the security questions. Same problem with written correspondence. This came from different people each time, from different locations, with different job titles. I believe I have a museum to the transient nature of staff passing through your revolving doors! In the letters there were basic arithmetical mistakes in calculations, and misunderstandings of my situation and your own legislation and guidance. I was even told that my case was “very complicated” when it took a friend of mine, who isn’t an accountant, less than an hour to spot what had gone wrong and set out what you needed to do.
However even setting out in detail what you needed to do, you kept coming back asking superfluous questions, changing my tax code, and then telling me that I owed you money! If I had been working full-time I don’t know how an employer would have let me be hanging on the phone for ages waiting to get through to you.
It was finally sorted out after I threatened to go to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The final calculations of yours were still not exactly right- I was a few hundred pounds down, but to continue the battle wasn’t worth the strain on my sanity.
It wasn’t that your people were rude, or arrogant- they were all of them patient, and polite. However none of them bar the final one I spoke to, had been trained to the required standard or had the wit to understand the simpler parts of the tax system. Also your letters were full of grammatical errors and non-plain English sentences. I was even told that I was working for the Independent Police Complaints Authority at one point!
HMRC is arguably one of the most important departments in Government. Without it the Treasury would have no money, and the Government would collapse. Why then do you staff it with inadequately trained people not up to the task, or with an insufficient level of staff to deal promptly with calls and correspondence?
The worst aspect of all was the waiting on the phone to get through. This usually took 20-90 minutes, listening to interminable muzak and/or recorded messages, but never telling you how much longer you might have to wait, or where I was in the queue. My local Council, Croydon has both of these facilities, and I find it appalling that one of the most important Government Departments, yours, treat those people who supply it with money with so little customer service.
So, HMRC, was I just totally unlucky in dealing with the wrong people at the wrong time- or are the problems I experienced replicated all over the UK? I have an information request in with you asking about complaints received 2010-11, and one to the Ombudsman about upheld complaints against HMRC. But I’m not holding my breath. Your organisation needs a root and branch look at itself and the service you provide. I’m already dreading the 2011-12 tax return.