HMRC Charter annual report: April 2020 to March 2021 – GOV.UK

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Published 4 November 2021

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The Charter Annual Report is an important document showing how HMRC is achieving its vision to build a trusted, modern tax administration system, that fits with the way our customers run their businesses and their lives. An essential element of this continues to be how we treat our customers and what we do if we fall short of our standards.
The report is published by HMRC’s Commissioners but is provided to us by HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee, which is made up of Non-Executive Directors of HMRC and independent advisers. Based on the new HMRC Charter and our performance against it in the year 2020 to 2021, the report provides a valuable assessment of how we are performing against the Charter standards to improve the experience of our customers and where we need to further improve. It also details the activity HMRC has undertaken and sets out the challenges we faced in this extremely difficult year.
I’m immensely proud of the way we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic – from the outset we played a vital role at the heart of the Government’s response. As the UK economy recovers from a period of crisis, our focus will remain on supporting our customers and improving their experience when interacting with us. I’m grateful to the Customer Experience Committee in helping us achieve our vision. Jim Harra HMRC First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive
HMRC strives to put the citizens of the UK at the heart of everything it does, and the Tax Administration Strategy (published in July 2020) supports the vision to be trusted and the ambition for a better customer experience within a healthy tax system fit for the 21st century.
When HMRC talks about improving customer experience it is important to consider the sheer diversity and size of HMRC’s customer population:
Within these groups there are a wide range of different ways in which people interact with HMRC, some people purely pay PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and others deal with HMRC via agents resulting in HMRC interacting with 72,000 agent firms serving 12 million customers. Additionally, these groups can be broken down even further, for example 1.9 million families and 3.5 million children helped through tax credits and 36,000+ businesses supported to prepare for the end of UK’s transition period with the EU (European Union). Further information about HMRC’s customer groups can be found in the 2020 to 2021 Annual Report and Accounts.
It is also important to recognise the range of HMRC activity that drives customer experience. Customer service is hugely important; however, customer experience is also at the forefront of the design of tax policy and services and all HMRC’s engagement activity including providing guidance, answering questions, paying money, managing customers’ data, and compliance behaviour and processes.
I welcome HMRC’s continued emphasis on building a trusted, modern tax administration system and the importance it places on customer experience in achieving this. The HMRC Charter is at the core to achieving this ambition. HMRC ran a public consultation to revise the Charter, this ran from February to August 2020. This importantly highlighted the need for HMRC to value the Charter, perhaps more than it has done in the past. The new HMRC Charter was published on 5 November 2020, alongside refreshed principles of support for customers who need extra help.
The Customer Experience Committee has had another productive year, offering its advice and suggestions to various parts of HMRC. I became committee chair in January 2021 and I look forward to continuing to lead the committee in its role to advise and hold HMRC to account for delivering against the Charter standards and its ambition to continually improve customers experience when interacting with HMRC.
The Customer Experience Committee has agreed three broad areas of focus to support and challenge HMRC with for 2021 to 2022:
The HMRC Board also support and recognise the importance of the HMRC Charter and have identified delivery against the standards as one of their priorities.
Juliette Scott, HMRC Non-Executive Director
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 it easy for customers, and be fair, responsive and aware of customers’ personal situations.
The Charter is supported by further principles of support for customers who need extra help.
It is a legal requirement for the Charter to be reviewed regularly and that all revisions should be published.
The new HMRC Charter was published on 5 November 2020 and this Charter Annual Report assesses HMRC’s performance throughout 2020 to 2021 against these new standards.
The Customer Experience Committee supports, challenges and guides the department on its customer experience work. It ran four quarterly meetings in 2020 to 2021, as well as two further ad hoc meetings and informal support sessions on specific topics. The committee advised on the following areas:
Since publication of the new Charter, the committee has supported HMRC with the aim to raise the Charter’s visibility, increasingly measure HMRC performance against the Charter and support HMRC to ‘live the Charter’ in its day-to-day activity. This report includes more detail on this activity under the relevant sections.
HMRC assesses customer feedback data continuously using data from a range of customer contact channels, such as customer surveys after they have used the Department’s services. Further detail can be found throughout the report.
This year is also the second time the Customer Experience Committee has commissioned direct contributions for the Charter Annual Report from two external sources – HMRC’s Independent Adjudicator and the Charter Stakeholder Group, made up of external representatives of the tax profession.
The committee plans to continue drawing on these perspectives on an ongoing basis and has thanked them for their contributions. The Adjudicator is a member of the committee and HMRC will continue to meet regularly with the external stakeholder group to obtain feedback.
HMRC has made good progress in embedding the Charter standards, including:
Specifically, HMRC has mapped existing staff learning materials against the Charter standards to ensure that Charter knowledge and skills form part of the capability priorities for each HMRC business area. HMRC has also remained focused on ensuring its workforce have the right skills, including:
HMRC has also continued to reinforce the link between customer experience and employee experience in its work on internal culture change. HMRC is committed to creating a positive working experience for its workforce, as it knows this will deliver a better experience for its customers.
HMRC was at the heart of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The priority was to deliver and design services that met, and adapted to customer needs, to get the right level of support to individuals and businesses at the speed required. HMRC also needed to design in strong compliance controls to minimise the potential for error and fraud. HMRC successfully delivered 4 support schemes through 2020 to 2021, supporting:
Development of the COVID-19 support schemes demonstrated that the customer was at the forefront of HMRC design. HMRC also delivered several easements to support customers in managing their tax affairs during these difficult times. HMRC took a compassionate and common-sense approach in line with the Charter standards in dealing with people facing tax debts and those who were concerned about their ability to meet their tax obligations, for example by deferring compliance checks. However, if customers specifically wanted to continue with the checks HMRC also accommodated those wishes.
Some specific examples of how HMRC supported customers during this period, over and above delivering the major COVID-19 Support schemes, are:
For customers who need extra support, HMRC:
2020 to 2021 was a challenging year for any organisation delivering customer service, and HMRC was no exception.
In accordance with government guidelines, many colleagues could not work in HMRC offices, and for the first time, customer service colleagues answered queries from their own homes. Prior to the pandemic, very little telephony activity took place outside of HMRC’s office estate, but in response to the pandemic HMRC successfully tested and implemented technology to allow 7,000 colleagues to undertake telephony work from home, ensuring the continuation of service for customers.
The results of HMRC’s 2020 annual customer survey for individuals, small business and agents show that HMRC offered a good experience to many customers in many areas during 2019 to 2020. Overall customer experience improved substantially for all three customer groups, with the proportion of customers positively rating their overall experience of interacting with HMRC as follows:
On external benchmarking, the Institute of Customer Service publishes its bi-annual UKCSI (UK Customer Service Index) in January and July each year. Whilst the sample size is much smaller than the HMRC annual survey, and therefore statistically significant trends are more difficult to identify, in the January 2021 UKCSI executive summary of results HMRC was specifically highlighted as a main contributor to the public sector satisfaction increase. HMRC’s satisfaction score realised the third biggest increase, with increased scores on reputation and trust seen as positive pointers of improvement.
While the UKCSI suggests good progress, HMRC recognise there is more to do to meet the best-in-class public services and private sector industries.
HMRC invites all customers using the digital platforms to comment on their experience through completion of transactional exit surveys. In 2020 to 2021 approximately 5% (6.2 million) of customers offered the survey provided feedback, with 85.2% advising they were satisfied with their online experience, an increase from 81.6% in 2019 to 2020. Throughout 2020 to 2021, HMRC published additional customer service measures in quarterly performance updates. These show how customers rated the ease of using HMRC’s digital services (Net Easy – a new way for customers to assess their own experience of HMRC’s digital services) increasing positively throughout the year, with the Net Easy score rising from 65.2 (2019 to 2020) to 72.2 (2020 to 2021). The survey asked customers using HMRC’s digital services ‘how easy was it to deal with HMRC today?’.
The survey also asks customers whether they were ’able to do what they needed to do today’. Responses to this question were consistently above 85%, improving from 87.8 (2019 to 2020) to 88.7 (2020 to 2021). This measure helps HMRC to understand the proportion of customers who achieved resolution of their query at first contact. Customers told HMRC that they want to be able to deal with HMRC with the minimum amount of effort therefore meeting this need reduces the burden on HMRC’s customers and the demand on HMRC’s contact channels.
During the final quarter of the year HMRC also supported businesses and individual customers to deal with the changes brought about by the UK’s transition from the EU. HMRC worked closely with consultative bodies and customers direct to understand readiness and customer needs. HMRC also expanded the capacity of the Customs and International Trade Helpline, with 70,000 calls answered from the beginning of 2021. HMRC expects the number of calls to these lines to reduce as customers get used to the new processes.
HMRC’s customers and stakeholders can provide feedback on the Charter by contacting the HMRC Charter mailbox directly. Very little feedback was received during 2020 to 2021. The feedback received was shared with the appropriate HMRC teams for awareness and related to existing system problems such as Government Gateway accessibility and customers being unable to complete online tax returns.
HMRC uses real time customer feedback obtained during customer engagement and from social media to improve its products and services. HMRC has invested in thematic analysis capability to help categorise customer feedback. In 2020 to 2021 this tooling picked up that some of HMRC’s guidance materials were confusing. In response to this HMRC has improved its interactive guidance journeys and listens to and acts on feedback obtained during webinars and on social media to improve the help and support available to customers.
The external Charter Stakeholder Group (see appendix 2 for membership) continues to meet to provide regular feedback on how HMRC is performing against the Charter standards. HMRC welcomes the feedback this group provides and during the year the group suggested customer communications (specifically content, tone and audience) should be a core interest and priority for HMRC. The Customer Experience Committee agreed this priority, which is included in the Customer Experience Committee’s work plan for 2021 to 2022.
During the year the Charter Stakeholder Group provided positive feedback on HMRC’s efforts to embed the Charter, particularly where HMRC has been able to demonstrate the practical impact this is having on the customer experience. The group have also suggested HMRC utilises more external communication channels via the agent community to provide an ongoing narrative of the activities taking place across HMRC to embed the Charter. The common themes raised by the Charter Stakeholder Group are reported in the section below.
HMRC also engages with stakeholders in other ways, such as via the stakeholder engagement research survey. The survey provides insights into the views of a range of important stakeholder groups to identify trends and changes in attitudes to inform how HMRC can improve the way it engages with these stakeholders to better fulfil its strategic objectives. Stakeholders believed that through 2020 to 2021, HMRC performed well against the main performance indicators, within what they perceived to be a challenging climate, highlighting the COVID-19 pandemic and perceptions of limited resources, as particular challenges.
Trust in HMRC was relatively high among stakeholders, with most agreeing that HMRC is an organisation they can trust and rely on. Advocacy also improved, with stakeholders more likely to speak highly of HMRC, than to criticise the organisation.
Stakeholders thought HMRC’s leadership and management team are professional and committed. There was widespread praise of the professionalism of HMRC staff, and most were satisfied with the technical expertise of staff, and stakeholders generally felt their queries were answered in an accurate and considered manner.
Customer service timeliness remained a perceived weakness, despite some noting recent improvements. They believed the biggest issue facing HMRC’s customer service was phone delays, although once they were through to an adviser, most stakeholders believed HMRC provided a reasonable service. Stakeholders also praised the frequency and number of channels of communication.
There has been a lot of activity relating to the Charter over the past year and a significant increase in interest and resource invested across HMRC.
HMRC involved me from the outset in consultation on development of the new Charter, both as a member of the Customer Experience Committee and individually in my role as Adjudicator. I took part in discussions with HMRC colleagues seeking external advice about both the development and implementation of the Charter. They took care to balance the views of internal and external stakeholders, to achieve a document that can be translated into operational practice and sets clear expectations of behaviours across HMRC. The result is clear and accessible and creates an opportunity to translate into something meaningful for all staff and to the benefit of customers because of how it was conceived and put to paper.
The Charter plays an integral role in the evolving relationship between HMRC and its customers. HMRC is giving detailed consideration to how it can integrate and embed the Charter across the whole organisation. I support both the Charter and the work that HMRC is doing to ensure that it becomes a reality in practice.
The new Charter was launched in November 2020. Because of the nature of our work, it was only at the very end of 2020 to 2021 that we began to review complaints that arose after introduction of the Charter. This means that we cannot yet give any direct feedback on the impact of the Charter and the extent to which it is reflected in day-to-day activity.
As we begin to investigate complaints that arose under the current Charter, we will collate feedback for the department to help to form a picture of how the new standards are bedding in. We are currently developing a model to categorise the outcomes from complaints to improve the insight available and will be able to feedback more specifically on performance against the Charter next year.
For membership of the Charter Stakeholder Group, see Appendix 2.
The Charter Stakeholder Group considered HMRC’s performance against the HMRC Charter in 2020 to 2021. The group acknowledges that its feedback continues to reflect the fact that members mostly hear about what goes wrong and recognises that a lot goes right – which they may be less aware of.
The group overwhelmingly said they continue to recognise it had been an exceptional and challenging year for HMRC who have rightly been commended, and should continue to be, for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. However, they have also seen the effects of this in some of HMRC’s operational business as usual performance. The day-to-day experience of taxpayers and agents dealing with the tax system has deteriorated during the year, particularly in response times for calls and post handling.
The group say they have seen a real drive and commitment to embed the new Charter and its standards in many areas across HMRC and they welcome this. They also appreciate the continuation of engagement with the group itself, formed during the Charter consultation period.
The group said in 2020 to 2021 they have seen some positive changes from HMRC in its aim to improve customer experience and to deliver against the Charter standards:
The group advise they appreciate the commitment to embed the Charter standards, but there is more that can be done. They have seen inconsistencies of experiences when dealing with HMRC, which suggests that more work is needed to embed the Charter standards across the whole of HMRC.
They see it is important that the Charter standards should be demonstrated not only at an individual member-of-staff level, but at an organisational level too. They recommend the following as priorities for HMRC in 2021 to 2022:
Going forward, the group fully supports the enthusiasm to embed the Charter across HMRC, especially with the planned significant changes to the tax system, such as Making Tax Digital for income tax.
Set out below is the HMRC activity against each of the Charter standards, supported with the relevant performance indicators taken from the 2020 annual customer survey for individuals, small business and agents – followed by a summary of comments received from the Charter Stakeholder Group.
HMRC has acted on the feedback from the Charter consultation that embedding the Charter standards could be more important than the words in the Charter itself. HMRC set up and started to implement a programme of work to ensure that the Charter is used in all that it does, whether their workforce is on the front line in customer services or writing guidance.
This supports HMRC’s ambition to become a trusted and modern tax and customs department by helping customers meet their obligations and ensure they get the support they need, as well as taking action against those customers who may be bending or breaking the rules.
HMRC also provides further detail on its performance against its key customer service targets in the 2020 to 2021 Annual Report and Accounts.
During this period HMRC supported customers in meeting their tax obligations as well as ensuring they were receiving the COVID-19 support that HMRC was administering.
To do this HMRC ensured that its service was responsive to customer demand:
During this period, HMRC also supported customers in understanding and complying with new obligations resulting from UK transition from the EU. This included revising guidance so customers were clear on what they needed to do, establishing a series of webinars to share information and provide a forum where questions could be asked, and regular engagement with external stakeholders along with written communications. HMRC also trained nearly 3,000 colleagues in over 50 new and updated customs products and processes, so customers were supported in meeting their obligations.
When customers are not compliant, HMRC’s aim is to work with them promptly and professionally to get them back on the right track. Some of the work HMRC has done, aligned to ‘getting things right’, to improve the experience of customers undergoing compliance checks includes:
2020 to 2021: 72.2 (+7 on 2019 to 2020: 65.2)
The customer survey conducted on digital channels asks “How easy was it for you to do what you needed to do today?“. The Net Easy score represents the total of positive responses minus the total of negative responses. The score that can be achieved therefore ranges on a scale from -100 to 100, with higher scores highlighting positive ease in relation to services used.
The scores for digital contact resolution throughout 2020 to 2021 were consistently above 85% and an improvement in year from 2019 to 2020 (Table 2).
2020 to 2021: 88.73% (+1 on 2019 to 2020: 87.8%)
The customer survey conducted on digital channels asks “Were you able to do what you needed to today?”. The result is the percentage of people who said ‘yes’.
Scores for telephony performance (Table 3) have dipped from August 2020 to February 2021, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, however an uplift in performance is now starting to be seen.
2020 to 2021: 79.5%
The percentage of callers to HMRC helplines who don’t call back again within 7 days after speaking to an adviser.
More details about customer service performance can be found in the 2020 to 2021 Annual Report and Accounts.
There has also been a notable increase for 2020 in the supporting performance indicators relevant to this Charter standard in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 (see ‘supporting performance indicators’ below).
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
The group comments that although overall performance against this standard was mixed, generally HMRC got most things right. Of note is the HMRC initiative to produce a series of YouTube videos on compliance checks to help taxpayers understand the process. The videos give clear, concise information about various aspects of the process and signpost taxpayers to additional detail. HMRC was also proactive in seeking input from stakeholders, with useful virtual collaborative meetings to discuss the story board.
The group consider there is considerably more work to be done to live up to this Charter standard, particularly for online services. Some HMRC services are working well, like claiming the £6 working from home allowance and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, but others are not working so well, such as CGT (Capital Gains Tax) on UK residential properties and the Trust Registration Service. Their clients have also raised concerns about the quality and consistency in HMRC responses. They consider HMRC Contact Centre staff are helpful and courteous, but they can be let down by poor systems and lack of training, particularly around more technical enquiries as guidance can be confusing.
The group has suggested areas of improvement to assist HMRC and its customers, including agents, to get things right:
The 2 March 2021 Spring Budget announced funding for HMRC to develop the foundations of a Single Customer Account and Single Customer Record, demonstrating the government’s commitment to making things easy for the customer. These are central to HMRC’s new Tax Administration Strategy as they will provide a holistic view of customers’ interactions with HMRC, improve customers’ ability to self-serve and tailor support and personalised responses for customers. The Making Tax Digital policy paper published in July 2020 sets out HMRC’s ambition to be the most digitally advanced tax administration. The Making Tax Digital programme continues to make extensive use of insight and user testing to deliver against that ambition.
Ease of use was critical to the successful delivery of the COVID-19 support schemes. Despite the great pace at which it was done HMRC designed COVID-19 schemes that were easy to use for their customers and provided direct communication to customers to ensure they understood the support on offer and how to receive it.
During 2020 to 2021 HMRC encouraged customers to interact with the department digitally. An advantage of digital services is availability to customers outside of usual business hours meaning customers could interact more easily at a time convenient to them. The services were supported with guidance that was updated in real time using customer insight and other digital tools such as webchat and webinars. Satisfaction ratings for digital services are high, the results are detailed in Tables 1 and 2 under the ‘Getting things right’ Charter standard.
HMRC recognises a well-designed system can prevent non-compliance before it can occur, while making things easier for taxpayers and allowing HMRC to focus its resources where they can make the most difference. The most efficient way to collect the right amount of tax is for HMRC to guide the taxpayer by intervening before anything has the chance to go wrong, this includes building prompts into the online Self Assessment system, which flag when a customer’s entry is out of line with what HMRC expects to see. Additionally, in 2020 to 2021 HMRC added an “upfront declaration”, into the Charity Gift Aid Repayments claim process, which has been used by around 75,000 charities to make around 550,000 claims each year. The prompts try to counter any misunderstandings around repayment entitlement by the charities.
HMRC also aims to avoid disputes by supporting, and making it easy, for all taxpayers to comply with their obligations and pay the right amount of tax in accordance with the law. HMRC does this in several ways, including designing well framed guidance and legislation and providing one-to-one support through online web chats, phone calls and correspondence.
Ease of service for customers who need extra help is particularly important. In 2020 to 2021 HMRC:
HMRC also introduced a new Customs and International Trade helpline in November 2020 to support customers impacted by the UK’s transition from the EU, which replaced several separate lines to provide a single point for calls about Customs processes. A new Customs webchat service was also introduced for customers who prefer to contact HMRC digitally.
The supporting performance indicators based on the ‘ease’ questions in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 have also improved (see below).
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
The group recognises that clients generally only tell them about things that have gone wrong and there has been a drive to make improvements across several HMRC services. This has been seen in some new services introduced, such as the service that enables employees working from home to claim the £6 per week allowance and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant claims service. The group highlighted several improvements in other ways which include:
However, other services such as the 30-day CGT service have been problematic, particularly around user registration and the ease of access for agents using the service on behalf of their clients. Another area the group set out for HMRC to improve, in addition to those summarised under ‘Getting things right’ include greater emphasis being placed on customer experience when developing and implementing policy.
HMRC engaged with external stakeholders on the design and delivery of the government’s COVID-19 financial support schemes launched in early 2020, to ensure they understood the pressures on customers and responded accordingly. Alongside the direct support from HMRC’s delivery of the 4 main support schemes, HMRC also implemented several tax policy changes to support customers, including a VAT payments deferral scheme between March 2020 and June 2020; enabling Self Assessment customers to spread their tax bill over a period of up to 12 months; and removing late filing penalties if customers filed their Self Assessment return online by 28 February 2021.
HMRC recognises that call waiting times on telephone helplines were longer than it would have liked for much of 2020 to 2021. HMRC received 33.3 million calls, and, on average, they were answered in 12 minutes, higher than in 2019 to 2020. These figures reflect higher levels of customer demand, as well as the need to divert resources to the government’s financial support schemes.
The ADL (Agent Dedicated Line) was deprioritised at the beginning of the pandemic and agent calls were handled in line with the call handling services for all other customer lines. At its peak this saw the time taken to answer calls rise from under 1 minute for the ADL to approximately 35 minutes.
De-prioritisation of the ADL has been raised across various Agent and Professional Body forums throughout 2020 to 2021, including the Agent Online Forum. HMRC has made full use of the channels available to keep the agent community updated on the latest position. HMRC continues to monitor ADL demand, supply and performance, alongside business as usual, COVID-19 schemes and services supporting the UK’s transition from the EU, and aims to provide the best, balanced service possible. Agents continue to receive a similar service to HMRC’s other tax customers.
However, analysis and data show that use of the ADL has moved away from being a dedicated line where HMRC offers support for complex issues, to a line used for many non-complex matters where existing online service solutions are available on GOV.UK. HMRC has been working with stakeholders to review the ADL and move it back to its original intended purpose of dealing with complex agent issues. A trial of the repurposed ADL launched in June 2021, with Professional Bodies providing HMRC with feedback to review performance of the trial.
HMRC also implemented a new customer support model to help customers respond to new requirements as a result of UK’s transition from the EU. This included:
HMRC has also focused on ensuring their workforce have the right skills. As mentioned in the overview, this has included developing empathy training, a new managers’ development programme, and a standalone Learning Directorate in HR.
HMRC aims to provide an easy, accessible and responsive complaints service which reaches the right outcome as quickly as possible, acknowledging where it made a mistake and the customer impact of that mistake.
HMRC operates a two-tier internal complaints process providing customers with the opportunity for a second independent review of their complaint. If a customer remains dissatisfied with HMRC’s decision, they can refer their complaint to the independent Adjudicator’s Office and then, via their Member of Parliament, to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).
In 2020 to 2021, HMRC handled new complaints in an average of 16.3 days compared to 17 days the year before. HMRC continues to focus on improving responsiveness to dealing with complaints. During 2020 to 2021 HMRC continued to prioritise complaints from the most vulnerable customers, including those complaints where customers were experiencing impacts due to COVID-19.
In comparison to 2019 to 2020, complaint receipts have:
COVID-19 impacts for individual customers were a key driver for the increased complaints received in 2020 to 2021. Over 16,500 complaints received in that year related to COVID-19 impacts, representing 21% of the 78,542 new complaints. HMRC also saw increased escalation rates to Tier 2 and the Adjudicator, driven by the COVID-19 related complaints.
In 2020 to 2021, HMRC saw a decrease in upheld decision rates for customer complaint cases at both Tier 1 and Tier 2 handling stages. At Tier 1 HMRC upheld, partially or in full, 43% of complaints compared to 53% the previous year. And at Tier 2 HMRC upheld 29% of customer complaints compared to 49% the previous year. The change in upheld rates is predominantly due to high levels of complaints relating to eligibility for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, where the criteria for eligibility were clear.
HMRC remains committed to learning from complaints and insight received from the Adjudicator, using the learning from both to drive improvements in the services it offers and the way it interacts with customers. HMRC launched a Complaints Insight Board in 2019 bringing senior leaders together to consider learning from complaints in order to collaboratively drive improvements to service, process or policy.
The supporting performance indicators, such as the time taken to resolve queries, in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 have also improved across all three customer groups (see below).
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
The group commended HMRC on its response to the pandemic and recognised the significant effort and resourcing impact this has had on its services. However, they generally expressed that this has been at the expense of other services and there had been an overall deterioration in customer service performance, particularly responsiveness to customer call times, webchat and correspondence. The stakeholder group called for priority access to be restored to the ADL, which HMRC has since reviewed and launched a new trial for 2021.
There have been service delays across a number of HMRC business areas throughout 2020 to 2021. Members appreciate that many of these delays relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, however it would be helpful for HMRC to be open and transparent about backlogs, ongoing issues and plans for recovery, so that taxpayers and agents know what to expect and agents can manage their client’s expectations.
Another area where stakeholders felt HMRC could have been more responsive was around the Self Assessment deadline where, despite the pandemic, HMRC introduced easements on late filing and late payment penalties later than stakeholders had asked for despite the considerable pressure that agents and firms were under. If the easement could have been announced even a week earlier, it could have made a significant difference.
HMRC is committed to treating customers fairly and providing tailored support at the right time to individuals who may need extra help.
HMRC took account of the impact of the pandemic on customers’ ability to meet their tax obligations. Where people could not pay their tax, HMRC allowed them to defer payment, and to pay off their debts over time in affordable instalments. HMRC aimed to continue bringing in revenue while maintaining a fair and level playing field for all and prioritising customer support to protect viable businesses.
HMRC used research, stakeholder and real time customer feedback to understand the perspective of customers at the start of and throughout the pandemic.
Treating customer fairly includes taking action against those customers who are avoiding or evading paying their tax. HMRC’s compliance professional standards, launched in July 2020 and aligned to the Charter, reinforce the importance of fair, lawful and impartial decisions and establishing the facts in the department’s compliance activity. HMRC took a common-sense approach to managing compliance during 2020 to 2021, taking individual circumstances into account. Where people could not deal with HMRC’s compliance enquiries, HMRC deferred these if possible. However, HMRC still took compliance action if criminal activity or deliberate non-compliance was suspected.
HMRC also continued to take action to protect customers and the tax system from harm, with new measures to tackle evasion, promoters of tax avoidance and other forms of non-compliance. The ‘getting things right’ section includes detail on activity for customers who are not compliant.
The supporting performance indicators related to questions around fairness in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 have also improved across all three customer groups (see below).
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
Some members advised they considered the standard as being met, whilst others expressed there is an overall perception of unfairness and inconsistency of treatment, in particular regarding individuals who do not have access to professional advice.
Some members perceive that the assumption that the taxpayer is doing something wrong or that there is an avoidance motive remains in some areas of HMRC.
HMRC published the new principles for ‘Customers Who Need Extra Help’ on GOV.UK, alongside HMRC’s refreshed Charter in November 2020 and highlighted the extra support available.
Customers identified as needing extra help are transferred to HMRC’s Extra Support advisers, who have the skills to handle queries at the customer’s pace. HMRC has enhanced its existing Extra Support services to further support customers, which includes improving guidance and signposting to the service, as well as adapting the web service.
As referenced in the overview of performance, HMRC is committed to providing tailored support at the earliest opportunity, for customers who may need extra help. HMRC reached out to vulnerable customers who were eligible for the COVID-19 support schemes – who might otherwise have been unaware of their eligibility – to ensure that they accessed the support available to them through a difficult time.
During 2020 to 2021, HMRC also rolled out a training programme and improved guidance for customer service colleagues and compliance officers so they can better identify when to provide extra help to customers.
HMRC has reviewed and updated several of its customer-facing communications and compliance products during the year to make sure they are clear, easy to understand and signpost extra support.
As mentioned throughout the report, being aware of customer’s situation around debt has been particularly important this year. HMRC’s approach to collecting customer debt throughout the pandemic was to do so in a way that was sensitive to customers’ altered needs and capabilities while protecting the tax system and bringing in the money to fund the country’s vital public services. HMRC’s approach was and continues to be:
The supporting performance indicators in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 relevant to this Charter standard have also improved for all three customer groups. A new question ‘HMRC took (personal/clients/business) circumstances into account’ was introduced in 2020, with broadly positive scores.
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
The group provided positive reflections around the introduction and operation of support schemes and the easing of some deadlines and penalties in response to the pandemic, advising this has shown a more compassionate and sensitive approach to taxpayers’ personal situations from HMRC. Members also reflected they have seen some positive change in the tone and content of some HMRC letters, particularly around tax debt collection and where customers can get extra support.
However, most members also said there was more to be done as the approach was being applied inconsistently, others also advised more could have been done to announce changes earlier and to ensure the digitally excluded were not being left behind as digital is often the first consideration for introducing new systems and obligations.
HMRC has continued to work with professional bodies to provide updates on areas of work that impact agents via the Agent Digital Services Advisory Group, which sits under the Representative Bodies Steering Group. This group has started to address the difficult issues raised by representatives, seek feedback and set out HMRC’s position in resolving these issues which are often constrained due to resource and funding decisions.
The continuation of the Charter Stakeholder Group, initially set up during the Charter consultation in 2020 to 2021, is another forum where HMRC can obtain direct feedback on concerns and areas which need prioritising. During 2020 to 2021 the group proposed HMRC focus on customer communications (specifically content, tone and audience) and ensuring their workforce have the right level of expertise to deal with enquiries.
HMRC also promoted the Trusted Helper service on GOV.UK through the updated Extra Support page, published in May 2020. This service enables a customer to appoint a trusted person of their choice to deal with their tax or benefit affairs on their behalf, which many customers find valuable.
HMRC also provided grant funding to the VCS (Voluntary Community Sector), the detail can be found in the 2020 to 2021 Annual Report and Accounts.
The supporting performance indicators in the HMRC individuals, small business and agents annual survey results for 2020 show that small businesses felt that HMRC made it easy for someone to act on their behalf, with an improved score from 2019, but this was not the case for individuals (see below).
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
Notes: The figure for ’HMRC made it easy for someone to act on your behalf’ is for individuals using a professional adviser. The figure for anyone receiving help, whether professional or from another source, was 66% in 2020.
Notes: The figure for ’HMRC made it easy for someone to act on your behalf’ is for individuals using a professional adviser. The figure for anyone receiving help, whether professional or from another source, was 66% in 2020.
Generally, the group appreciates that HMRC policy statements recognise the value that agents bring to the tax system. They also said they were pleased that HMRC’s ten-year tax administration strategy retains the commitment that agents should be able to see and do what their clients can and designing in agent access from the outset.
However, members stated there is more for HMRC to do here as its policies are not always translating into practice. They advised that agent access should be considered as a fundamental part of the system architecture and design process. The group highlighted the following areas of concerns:
HMRC remains firmly committed to achieving compliance with data protection laws in order to fully protect customer and their workforce’s personal data. HMRC holds vast amounts of data, which is vital to its core functions, but this carries significant responsibilities to ensure HMRC hold data in a way that is secure, appropriate, protected and meets the requirements of the law.
HMRC’s progress towards meeting the full requirements of data protection laws, including UK GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), has been hampered at times by the considerable scale of the organisation, and in particular by the age of the IT infrastructure. HMRC has significantly increased the governance, planning and resource required to meet this challenge, including through the provision of new security incident monitoring and response tooling, heightened risk management, new and on-going IT and data remediation programmes and a continuing roll-out of training to all their people. This work was greatly accelerated in 2020 to 2021, HMRC expects this commitment to further increase in 2021 to 2022 and beyond, subject to funding.
In the meantime, HMRC continues to record, report, address and learn from all data-related incidents involving the loss, theft or inappropriate disclosure of HMRC data, reporting incidents to the Information Commissioner and any individuals concerned whenever the legal threshold for reporting is met.
A summary of the questions and results from the Individuals, small businesses and agents customer survey 2020.
The group overall were positive around how HMRC is increasing awareness of scam activity, however they also noted occasional data breaches do happen.
HMRC has made significant progress during an exceptional year, introducing the new Charter standards and initiating a programme of work to implement and embed the standards across the department, which the committee fully supports.
The committee believes that HMRC has performed well against each of the standards, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but recognises the concerns raised by stakeholders on the knock-on impact on service performance levels as has been covered in this report. The committee understands the challenge at hand and therefore will continue to closely monitor the service recovery throughout 2021 to 2022.
In addition, the committee’s focus for 2021 to 2022 is to support HMRC to deliver an improved customer experience through priority transformation activities; improving customer communications and continuing to invest and build the capabilities of HMRC’s workforce to bring the Charter standards to life.
The summary of performance set out in this report brings to life the action HMRC has taken to meet the committee’s recommendations from 2019 to 2020. As some of these recommendations are not quick deliverables, they will extend into HMRC’s 2021 to 2022 programme for Charter implementation.
The committee also acknowledges that these recommendations were set at a time when the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was an unknown. As this report sets out, despite the challenging backdrop, HMRC has delivered a significant amount throughout 2020 to 2021 and the committee believes HMRC can learn from this experience and apply the principles that underpinned delivery of the COVID-19 support schemes and focus on translating this back into core tax services in the coming year.
The committee supports HMRC’s continued efforts to build a trusted, modern tax administration system and the importance it places on improving customer experience in achieving this. The committee is confident the three areas of focus for 2021 to 2022, set out below, provides the basis for HMRC to act on the themes in this report.
HMRC’s Customer Experience Committee agreed on three areas of focus for 2021 to 2022, to support HMRC with:
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught HMRC that it can adapt and operate differently, delivering schemes and projects at speed. HMRC therefore aims to maintain momentum by improving customer journeys, simplifying processes for both their workforce and customers whilst encouraging customers to self-serve through digital channels.
HMRC’s Charter Stakeholder Group recommended HMRC increases its use of external communication channels to share good news stories of the progress being made to implement the Charter standards, particularly with the agent community. HMRC is building this into their 2021 to 2022 implementation plans which will hopefully increase customer and stakeholder awareness of the Charter standards and in turn reference the Charter in their engagement with HMRC.
HMRC is also investing in a new complaints system which will provide greater insight into the reasons for complaints. HMRC has also piloted a new operating model where front-line advisors resolve complaints at the earliest opportunity, and this will be rolled out gradually across HMRC to ensure it lands successfully. For HMRC customers who may need extra help, further support activity is planned throughout 2021 to 2022, examples of which includes:
Additionally, HMRC will continue to develop and roll out learning throughout 2021 to 2022, to ensure their workforce are aware of the Charter, know how to use it in their day-to-day work, and have the skills they need to deliver it. This will include:
HMRC welcomes any feedback about the content of this report or interactions and how it has performed against the Charter. You can email HMRC[email protected].
Uncertainty around the operating environment due to COVID-19 meant HMRC did not set formal performance targets for 2020 to 2021. Instead HMRC continued to set forecasts of what performance was expected to look like throughout the year.
Further information can be found in HMRC’s quarterly performance updates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ll protect information we hold about you and treat it as private and confidential. We’ll always use that information fairly and lawfully.
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.
The Customer Experience Committee supports and challenges HMRC’s Executive Committee (ExCom) on customer experience-related issues and to help HMRC deliver on its strategic objectives.
Below is a list of the Non-Executive Directors of HMRC and independent advisers making up the Customer Experience Committee in 2020 to 2021, along with positions they hold and their experience.
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