Before email, what did we do before email? Way back, those readers over 50 will probably remember, kids used to link two empty cans with a piece of string to talk to each other. Now of course, technology has moved on: the youth of today use mobile phones, iPads and other electronic gadgets to converse.
HMRC has come under the cosh recently for the poor performance of its help lines: lines engaged, incorrect recorded messages and so on. This is of great concern to practitioners at this point in the tax cycle, when clearing queries quickly is paramount. Ironically, HMRC have not cracked email, unless the abundance of internet/email scams is taken into account. It is difficult to see how communication between Government, tax payers or their advisors by this means will ever work as security issues may be insurmountable.
HMRC and Companies House are doing their best to automate as many standard processes as they can by expanding their online services. Unfortunately, it is the non-standard queries that usually require urgent solution, which leaves us with snail mail or the telephone to sort out the complicated stuff. When deadlines loom this is a source of frustration and stress for tax practitioners, especially those who have no internal resources to fall back on.
What to do?
Even if your office is across the road from HMRC sending them a tin can and a ball of string is not going to work. HMRC’s first line of contact is now unqualified staff scanning paperwork onto hard drives for onward distribution.
You can and must use the phone and continue to hang on, tough out the waiting time to speak to a real person. As the 31st approaches this is time that could have been spent on more productive issues. Our recommendation? If you have an admin person in the office train them to make the calls; train them to work through the endless options, and wait for human contact to be made. Only then should you pick up the phone…