The National Audit Office has found the “collapse” in service at HM Revenue & Customs over the last two years has cost taxpayers £97m in excessive call waiting times.
Based on HMRC’s criteria, the NAO valued taxpayers’ time at an average of £17 an hour. It calculated that in the 2014/15 financial year, and the first seven months of 2015/16, callers would have wasted £66m waiting on the phone; £21m while talking to HMRC, and £10m on the cost of the call.
The NAO found that following cost cutting of £257m between 2010/11 and 2014/15, HMRC cut too many customer staff while rolling out a digital service.
It says between 2014 and 2016 call waiting times tripled. Outstanding discrepancies in the year to March 2015 went from 2.4 million to 4.6 million.
The NAO says 3.2 million of these were high priority cases, meaning these employees could have paid the wrong amount of tax.
NAO head Amyas Morse says: “HMRC’s overall strategy of using digitally enabled information to improve efficiency and deliver service in new ways make sense to the NAO.
“This does not change the fact they got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably. This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount.”
Morse adds: “HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards.”