By Tony Hudson
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has wasted millions of pounds of the public's money by simply not answering its phones, according to a scathing report by an influential committee of MPs.
The public accounts committee report claims customers calling HMRC for advice on their taxes wound up spending £136 million pounds on 20 million phone calls which were left unanswered out of the approximately 79 million calls made.
The committee called HMRC's customer service record "unacceptable" considering it spent £900 million on customer service in the last year, which is roughly a quarter of its total annual budget.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge called the statistics "abysmal", emphasising the urgent need for improvements in the department.
"HMRC's 'customers' have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department. It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter," she said.
Along with the criticisms, MPs announced proposed improvements which Hodge said were a step in the right direction but were nowhere near enough to adequately tackle the problem
"HMRC's new target of answering 80% of calls within five minutes is woefully inadequate and unambitious," she said.
Hodge also expressed doubts about HMRC's ability to make significant improvements to their service considering its plans to cut down on staff.
"HMRC considers that it will be able to improve service standards by reducing avoidable contact with customers and using its staff more flexibly. It may need to put in additional resources, though, to avoid the kind of plummeting performance we have seen in the past."