Thursday, 7 April 2011

HM Revenue & Customs Helpline - Part 1

Dear Reader,

I recently submitted a claim to HM Revenue & Customs (for those living outside of the UK, the Taxman basically), for some money owed to me.

I had done all the legwork, itemising the amounts involved in tedious spreadsheets until I had what I thought was all the information required to make HMRC's life as straight-forward as possible. I put all of this info into a letter and waited for a response with baited breath. I received a phone call two weeks later, clarifying a point, which was fair enough. At least my claim was being dealt with. I checked the mail, awaiting my cheque.

Time passes - four weeks to be exact.

A letter arrives, hall marked HMRC, excellent my cheque has arrived, except it hasn't...

I get a letter and this is where the fun starts. I use the word fun in it's loosest sense, poking cocktail sticks in my eyes would in fact have been considerably more amusing, and would have at least produced a result, positive or not.

Back to the letter, there is a problem, my claim relates to an employment which has now ceased. In the letter the end date of this employment was noted (well done HMRC for checking your records). I was asked to confirm whether I have subsequently been employed or am now claiming benefit. Now I am a little annoyed, as having checked their records once to confirm the end of an employment, for some reason it is beyond their ken to answer their own question by checking these same records, that would confirm that a new employment commenced two weeks later. Oh look, they would say, amazed by the veracity of their detective work, this gentleman is paying tax, he must be working, why do I need to waste tax payers money spinning out this simple claim, when all the required information is at my fingertips. Alas no, neither Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson are employed in the department dealing with my claim. Sadly, I now have to ring them.

So the torture has begun...

I ring the number, it is a multi-layer menu based system, with a bewildering number of choices at the first level, and the levels below what you eventually choose. It would appear that my issue is not one of the most popular, as a consequence I have to listen to all the choices at the top level, hoping that mine will come along. eventually, or that there will be a catchall hold the line/other at the end of it all. As previously stated the options are many, varied, and in many cases, surprisingly specific. A transcript below:

  If you have been overpaid tax press 1 (not me)
  If you have been underpaid tax press 2 (not me either)
  If you have received some bits of paper from us that you weren't expecting press 3 (thankfully not)
  If you are expecting some pieces of paper from us but haven't received them press 4 (almost, but not quite, I
  have received a piece of paper but not the piece I was expecting)
  If you are a pensioner press 6 (not yet, however by the end of this call I may be)
  If you are a one-legged man from Indonesia but resident in the UK and subject to UK tax rules on
  Thursdays when the moon is full press 7 (hmmm, appealing to choose but no)
  If you have a cat in distress press your doorbell and see if that helps (and so on until eventually I get to my
  For all other enquiries press #*991*#1296N

Finally, after pressing the mysterious set of buttons, I move to the next level... Astonishingly I get straight through to someone. I explain my situation, preparing for the barrage of security questions that will inevitably follow, you know, stuff like what is your mother's maiden, how old was your first dog when it caught a bone, that sort of stuff. But no, unfortunately, nothing of the sort was forthcoming. The response was straight to the point... "Our computers are being upgraded at the moment... we will not be able to deal with your query until tomorrow at the earliest." Thus ended my first brush with the HMRC helpline.

My second attempt, a day later (once the computer systems had been upgraded) was less fruitful. Having navigated the first level which I swear have changed since yesterday (perhaps because of the computer systems upgrade) I make it to level two. Another transcript (sorry).

  If you have received a love note from Winston Churchill press 1 (regrettably not)
  If you, or your spouse have been involved in activity which generates income but is not classed as a
  profession, such as prostitution, drug or weapon distribution, or selling your crap on EBAY press 2 (not me
  If you a pensioner press the play button on your betamax video recorder (hang on a feckin minute, you
  already asked me if I was a pensioner in the level above, oh, never mind)

Eventually I make it through to "if the one hundred and thirty-one options above do not fit your circumstances then activate the fire alarm at your local school" option, thinking that finally, I will be able to put this to bed, but no. A pre-recorded message greets me, "Unfortunately call volumes are particulary high at the moment, please try again later." I am now disconnected. What the fuck? No waiting line, no queuing system? I am English after all, I am genetically pre-disposed to waiting in line. Every other call centre in the UK uses this system, you wait, wait some more, until someone either answers or you die from old age or lack of food.

So this is where I am, no further forward but extremely angry.

As a PS to this post I was watching the news this morning and the HMRC have won something. They are now number 1, officially. They are better than mobile phone companies, credit card companies, banks, utility companies and insurance companies at issuing incorrect information to their users.

With the exception of the HMRC, all of the above are regulated, so their is a higher power you can complain to in the event of dissatisfaction,  and I am deeply dissatisfied. The HMRC, however, is a power unto itself, there is no recourse, no higher power, except my blog. I will, eventually, make them pay!

An update soon dear reader xxx

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