It’s fair to say that one of HMRC’s most effective innovations over the years has been the Agents Dedicated Line (ADL). It was brought in to recognise that agents were of value and contributed so much to making sure the right tax was paid by the right people at the right time.
When they resorted to using the line it was because they had exhausted other methods and were in urgent need of help. Calls were usually answered in under a minute, staff were helpful and in recognising they were dealing with an agent or their colleagues the tone and responses were professional and to the point.
Then along came the pandemic, and one of the first casualties was that while the line was kept open calls were not prioritised, and agents basically joined the queue with the general public.
As soon as agents were aware of that they simply stopped using it, because the wait times were too long and the responses were not as previously experienced.
As I write this, the situation has not changed and so I brought the matter up with HMRC. Here is the reply: “As our only preferential phoneline, agents consistently had a service time of less than a minute through the ADL in the year leading up to the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak. In light of the pandemic in March, we had to look at how we could rapidly remodel our business given fewer staff being available to answer the phones, and coronavirus support measures requiring implementation.
“So while the ADL still exists, we took the decision to remove preferential treatment as part of our reprioritisation exercise to help us manage the pandemic.
“We fully appreciate that, given the challenging circumstances we’re currently facing, we have not been able to offer a level of service we would like to. Agents remain a vitally important stakeholder group and we appreciate their patience, but we are not able to reintroduce preferential treatment on this line at the moment. We continue to keep our resourcing model for all of our phone lines under review.”
So there you have it – we’re still “vitally important” and they appreciate our patience, but was it the right decision to take in the circumstances? With major innovations breaking almost on a daily basis, and HMRC being the focal point of virtually all of them, the really important issue was to make sure that every effort was made to make sure that the help provided was reaching those that needed it.
HMRC’s decision made agents’ job harder for sure and being told yet again we are important doesn’t help. Actions speak louder than words, but then again words come cheap, don’t they?
• Tony Margaritelli, Chair, ICPA