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HMRC accused of 'failing UK taxpayers' by MPs

05 Nov 2015

HM Revenue and Customs has been accused of offering taxpayers an ‘abysmal’ service by a cross-party committee of MPs.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said that HMRC was ‘still failing UK taxpayers’ with poor customer service. She said that HMRC must ‘rapidly improve its customer service, previously described by the PAC as abysmal and now even worse’.

The committee accused HMRC of only answering half of the telephone calls made to its customer care centre. In 2011/12 it answered 74% of calls from the public, but at the start of 2015 the figure was allegedly down to 50%.

The PAC also criticised HMRC’s record on making prosecutions for offshore tax evasion. It described the 11 prosecutions made in the past five years as ‘woefully inadequate’, after HMRC was given a list of 3,600 British people believed to have sheltered money in Switzerland. HMRC has had a strategy of offering reduced penalties to people who volunteer information about overseas evasion, which the PAC said was an inadequate substitute for the ‘deterrent effect’ of prosecution.

In its defence, HMRC claimed that the gap between tax due and tax collected had been reduced to one of the lowest in the world. A spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed that the Public Accounts Committee has overlooked HMRC's record results, which include collecting a record £517bn in tax revenues.’

Meanwhile, the PCS union argued that HMRC’s customer service problem was attributable to 11,000 full-time equivalent posts being cut since 2010.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘It has been abundantly clear for years that the department has cut too many staff and that services are suffering.

‘The department needs major investment backed by a real political commitment to tackle tax evasion and avoidance as an alternative to more damaging spending cuts.’