Revenue and Customs: Telephone Services

Treasury written question – answered on 19th October 2011.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the cost of telephone calls made by the public to HM Revenue and Customs; and whether he plans to reduce the cost to individuals of such calls.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

holding answer 12 October 2011

The cost of calling HMRC is dependent on several factors. Calls are charged to the customer based on the tariff arrangements they have with their service provider, the device they use for the call and the location from which they call.

However, HMRC recognises that the cost of calling its 0845 numbers can be an issue for some customers—particularly those using pay-as-you-go mobile phones. It has therefore been actively reviewing its numbering strategy to see if it can find ways of reducing the costs involved while striking the right balance between costs to the caller and costs to the public purse.

I can confirm that as part of the process of agreeing its next telephony contract—which is due to take effect by June 2013—HMRC will continue to investigate alternatives to 0845 numbers. As a first and immediate step, HMRC expect that it will by the end of the year be able to offer an 0345 number for those customers calling its tax credit helpline (which last year accounted for around 40% of the total calls handled by its contact centre network).

The provision of a 0345 number is expected to result in significant cost savings for the majority of callers to the line.

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Annotations

David Hickson - fair telecoms campaign
Posted on 21 Oct 2011 11:25 am (Report this annotation)

Where there is a need for a non-geographical number and it is improper or not desired to impose a "Service Charge" on the caller, there is only one type of number available - 03xx.

There is no need for officers of HMRC to spend one more second of their valuable time, and our money, "investigating alternatives".

Where existing numbers are to be re-configured a new 0300 or 0303 number should be selected, ideally from a range which offers a coherent structure of numbers. Because there are many providers in the market, to whom number ranges are allocated by Ofcom, mistaken ideas about a fully comprehensive structure of well-ordered numbers must be immediately dismissed. (The original 03 project floundered on this nonsense some years ago, which is why we still have so many 0845 numbers in use.)

The quick, easy and secure option is to adopt the 0345 equivalent for every 0845 number. This may be run in parallel for a time, which could be extended indefinitely whilst perverse call costs for some BT customers remain.

If a new telephony contract with a new provider is likely, then all numbers will have to be migrated anyway, as any change has to have a period of parallel operation. It is nonsense to believe that a number change has to be synchronised with a change of provider.

0345 300 3900 - Tax Credits Helpline, is great news.

What about:

0345 302 1444 - Child benefit helpline
0345 300 0627 - Income Tax helpline
0345 302 1479 - National Insurance helpline
0345 900 0444 - Self-assessment helpline
0345 010 9000 - VAT helpline

and the rest. A simple instruction that the first 8 can always be swapped for a 3 on existing published 0845 numbers would save a lot of money - not to mention the enormous sums that are currently being wasted in unnecessary call-backs.

(See my media release on this matter at tiny.cc/TCH0345)