Published: 16th January 2024
HMRC seems to be stumbling from one crisis to another. In 2023 it closed various helplines, some temporarily and at least one permanently. It’s done this to redirect staff to other work where it’s under pressure and failing to meet its own standards. Its latest cut to helpline resources seems even more desperate.
With the deadline for 2022/23 personal self-assessment (SA) returns weeks away on 31 January, HMRC decided it was a good idea to drastically limit the calls its helpline will accept, especially if they relate to SA. This applies to individuals and accountants. HMRC claims that in the majority of cases the questions raised can either wait until after the busy period or be resolved by other means.
HMRC says that the majority of callers will be directed to its online guidance where, it claims, they can find the answers to their questions. The trouble with this is twofold: (1) the automatically generated directions to its guidance are frequently imprecise, leaving callers floundering in a sea of irrelevant information; and (2) even if you get to the right place online HMRC overestimates how useful the guidance is. If it believes that nearly all taxpayers will get the help they need online, it’s in cloud cuckoo land.
If you don’t submit your tax return on time HMRC will fine you £100 unless you have a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline, in which case it will cancel the penalty. HMRC says that its refusal to answer your calls about SA is not a reasonable excuse.
If you can’t find the right guidance you should go ahead and file your SA tax return no later than 31 January with information to the best of your knowledge. This will avoid the £100 fine. Make a note in the additional information section of the return explaining what you’ve done and why. After 31 January HMRC says it will lift the limits on the helpline. You can ask your question then and amend your tax return if necessary.