Self Assessment helpline shutdown will disproportionately affect those on the lowest incomes

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has reacted to the announcement that HMRC are to close their telephone self assessment helpline for three months from 12 June 20231.


Victoria Todd, Head of LITRG, said:


“The sudden closure of the self assessment helpline is extremely disappointing and ill-thought-out and will have a disproportionate effect on low income taxpayers who cannot afford professional advice and rely on HMRC to help them get their tax right.


“Just last month, HMRC were actively encouraging taxpayers to file their tax returns early 2. Now, they are making the process even more difficult by cutting off a vital source of support for unrepresented taxpayers.


“Assuming demand is similar to last year, around 1 million taxpayers will now need to look elsewhere for help3. This will most likely lead to increased demand for other HMRC services such as webchat, post or other phone helplines that are already under pressure. Although full details are not available about how those who need extra support will access the relevant team, we have concerns about the processes in place.


“The decision may also drive people towards the voluntary sector for help, but these bodies are already dealing with their own funding pressures and may be unable to cope with a sudden increase in demand for help.


“Perhaps most worrying is the chance that people will decide not to seek any help or turn towards unofficial sources such as online forums, increasing the risk that they will receive inaccurate advice or no advice at all. This would lead to errors, non-compliance and more problems for HMRC and taxpayers alike further down the line. We are also concerned that more unscrupulous commercial service providers may try and exploit the situation.


“Actions like this are not the answer, they simply store up problems for the future. What HMRC really need are the resources they require to do their job adequately and effectively. This is another example that shows this is not the case at present”.


On the rationale for moving services from HMRC’s telephone helpline to their digital services, Victoria Todd continued:


“We are also concerned that one of the key motivations for HMRC’s decision – that almost two-thirds of people can find a solution to their queries online – is lacking in evidence and needs better explanation.


“HMRC’s announcement contains no information about how they plan to evaluate the pilot. We have seen some concerning decisions on similar pilots recently which don’t seem to have a convincing evidence base and have not undergone full evaluation before further decisions to expand them have been taken. This must not happen with such a significant change in service delivery.


“HMRC want more people to interact with them online, but their online services and guidance need much more improvement in order for that to happen effectively 4. HMRC should undertake this improvement work first, before making changes like this one.

“Until this happens, adequate resources must be put into telephone and post handling. Otherwise, it will only become harder for taxpayers to comply with their responsibilities”.