£34 million is to be spent over the next 2 years to help HMRC reach call centre customer service targets, to be spent, among other things, on hiring up to an additional 1,000 staff  to add to the current 8,500 who attempt to handle 60 million calls a year.

Attempt was until recently the operative word. In 2010-11, only 48% of all call attempts were answered. Yes, that is less than half of call attempts which actually succeeded in getting any sort of response whatsoever from HMRC. This staggeringly bad statistic improved to 74% in 2011-12, but at over a quarter of calls going unanswered is still way short of the industry standard of 90%, which is what HMRC is aiming at.

Intriguingly, HMRC’s chief executive said “The feedback we get is that the quality of the advice we give when people get through is good..”, which is utterly counter to our experience as a professional firm, which suggests that many HMRC call centre staff have utterly inadequate understanding of the operation of the UK tax system.

They might like to care to address that issue at the same time, for those of us who often feel that even when we get through we might as well not have bothered.