HMRC publishes its annual report on its performance against the Charter standards
HMRC has published its annual Charter report on how it has performed against its Charter standards over the past year – ICAS contributed to the Charter Stakeholder Group input to the report.
What is the HMRC Charter?
Finance Act 2009 required HMRC to publish a Charter which must include “standards of behaviour and values to which HMRC will aspire when dealing with people in the exercise of their functions”. A new version of the Charter was launched in November 2020 following a consultation to which ICAS contributed.
HMRC is also required to make an annual report reviewing the extent to which it has demonstrated the standards of behaviour and values included in the Charter.
The Charter Stakeholder Group
The group is made up of representatives of the tax community, including ICAS, ICAEW and the CIOT. It holds regular meetings with HMRC which discuss how the Charter is being reflected in taxpayer and agent experience of dealing with HMRC. It also gives formal input about how HMRC is performing against the standards in the Charter, for inclusion in the annual report.
2022 Charter annual report
The 2022 report, covering the period April 2021 to March 2022, was published on 18 July. In his opening message the Chief Executive and Permanent secretary for HMRC, Jim Harra, noted the vital role HMRC played over the last two years in the government’s response to the pandemic – specifically mentioning work on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employment Support Scheme.
He also acknowledged that the decisions made about prioritising work during the pandemic meant that customer service levels fell below where HMRC wanted them to be for most of the year. This caused frustrations and difficulties for agents and taxpayers, and he pointed to the comments of the Charter Stakeholder group (CSG), that customer service was their greatest concern over the period.
The report goes on to assess HMRC performance across the different standards:
- Getting things right
- Making things easy
- Being responsive
- Treating you fairly
- Being aware of your personal situation
- Recognising that someone can represent you
- Keeping your data secure
Charter Stakeholder group input to the 2022 report
The CSG provided input to the report, through an overview in the main report and comments on the individual standards in Appendix 3. The overview noted that the group considered that HMRC had generally performed well in delivering the COVID-19 support schemes and implementing processes for the UK’s exit from the EU. However, negative feedback from members of the bodies making up the CSG had increased considerably, with some common themes. Two main areas of concern were highlighted in the overview.
Customer service levels
As Jim Harra commented, this was the single greatest concern, overshadowing any particular positive or negative behaviours addressed by the CSG. There is a perception that HMRC hasn’t ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic as quickly as other organisations, or as quickly as those working within the department would have hoped.
CSG members were disappointed that HMRC again chose not to set itself performance targets for 2021 to 2022, even to the extent that they reflected the operational uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reduced opening hours of phone lines, and closing the webchat service, make it even more important that callers can obtain a resolution during their first HMRC contact. Unfortunately, this seems decreasingly likely, with call handlers unable to deal with the issue there and then, ending the call or creating a referral for a specialist to deal with, which leads to delays and non-existent call-backs. Unless a taxpayer is large enough to have a Customer Compliance Manager, it continues to be very difficult to engage with HMRC on a technical matter.
Lack of consequences for HMRC failure
Another area of significant concern to the CSG was the lack of consequences for HMRC if it fails to meet the Charter standards. For taxpayers and their agents there can be severe penalties (financial and behavioural) for failing to get something right, or to meet a particular deadline. There are no such consequences for HMRC, and the CSG feels that the Charter will only be truly effective if there is greater HMRC accountability for meeting the Charter standards, without taxpayers having to raise individual complaints to obtain redress.
Embedding the Charter within HMRC
The CSG did recognise the effort HMRC is putting into embedding the Charter throughout the organisation’s culture and welcomed steps taken to give greater prominence to the Charter in HMRC’s correspondence and compliance activities. HMRC has developed a new learning product ‘Living the Charter’ – CSG would like this to be mandatory for all staff, as a regular part of their training, not just for new joiners. Consideration of the Charter should also be built into policy development, as new policies often fail to meet the Charter standards.
Perhaps due to the backdrop of poor HMRC service standards, CSG members had received limited feedback to indicate how successful the Charter has been in changing the day-to-day experience of dealing with HMRC, although feedback that had been received suggests that the standards are not being consistently applied.
Let us know your views
ICAS responds to many tax calls for evidence and consultations, as well as producing tax policy papers and reports. We also regularly attend meetings with HMRC at which service levels, delays and other issues are discussed, and we raise problems being encountered by Members. We welcome input from Members to inform our work; email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your insights and feedback.