Child Benefit

Treasury written question – answered on 22nd October 2008.

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Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Liberal Democrat, Winchester

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 6 October 2008, on child benefit, what percentage of callers to the child benefit helpline were automatically informed to call later by answer message because the lines were too busy in 2007-08.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

holding answer 13 October 2008

During 2007-08, the busy message was played to 29 per cent. of call attempts to the child benefit helpline.

Service levels on the child benefit helpline have been affected over the last 12 months by a variety of different factors. These include increased customer demand and longer call handling times following the introduction of enhanced security arrangements after HMRC's data loss in 2007. When the number of callers is high, as it has been on the child benefit helpline, calls are more likely to go unanswered with a higher number of busy messages played. Customers who cannot get through on their first attempt often use the rapid redial facility on their telephone to make numerous successive calls and this rapidly increases the number of unanswered calls and busy messages.

HMRC's latest contact centre customer survey, covering March to August 2008, shows that over 91 per cent. of callers were satisfied with the service they received from the child benefit helpline. The Department has, however, developed plans to further improve the service provided on the helpline.

These plans include allocation of an extra 50 advisers to the helpline by the end of the year; improving links between contact centres and the child benefit processing office to provide a better customer service; providing a set of automated messages on the helpline to enable callers to get basic relevant information about child benefit without needing to wait for or talk to an adviser and directing customers to the newly improved child benefit content on the HMRC website, which includes an improved payment date tracker. These measures will reduce the number of busy messages played to customers and enable more customers to speak to an adviser more quickly, should they need to.

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