The Adjudicator’s report: Lessons for HMRC
Anne-Marie Roberts, ICAS Head of Taxation - Scottish Taxes and Indirect Taxes, outlines the main findings of the Adjudicators latest report and the issues it highlights for HMRC.
The Adjudicator has published her annual report for 2014/15. The Adjudicator provides an independent review of complaints about HMRC, the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service and, since March 2015, the new Pension Wise service.
Before the Adjudicator takes on a case, the complainant must have exhausted the department's own complaints procedure. The Adjudicator cannot consider complaints about the law or where there is a legal route for redress through the tribunals or courts.
The Adjudicator is normally involved in cases involving:
- Unreasonable delays
- Poor and misleading advice
- Inappropriate staff behaviour
- The use of discretion by Government staff
In 2014/15, the new cases referred to the Adjudicator were:
- HMRC 1,044
- Insolvency Service 27
- Valuation Office 31
- Total 1,102
There were 1,850 cases concluded in the period, of which 1,808 related to HMRC and the outcome of these cases was:
- Not upheld 232
- Partially upheld 861
- Substantially upheld 682
- Withdrawn 32
- Reconsidered 1
This indicates that 85% of the complaints against HMRC were either partially or substantially upheld, which is an improvement on the 90% figure for 2013/14. The method of settlement of the disputes was as follows:
- Settled on the recommendation of the Adjudicator 1,074
- Settled through mediation 701
- Withdrawn 32
The report also notes that HMRC paid £2,996,769 redress to complainants.
The Adjudicator has noted that there is a commitment by the senior management of HMRC to transform complaints handling and that most of the complaints had been referred before changes were made to internal procedures. However, the need for further improvement is noted along with concerns about the increasing numbers of complaints on benefits and credits and the treatment of vulnerable customers.
The findings come at a time when HMRC is struggling to improve its service to taxpayers on all fronts, including its call handling targets – recent experience suggests waiting times of around 35 minutes for calls to the helplines. The move to digital tax accounts is a key part of HMRC's strategy to improve the taxpayer's experience, but these delays, and the findings of the Adjudicator, highlight that there are still many challenges for HMRC in fulfilling its remit in the non-virtual world.