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Revenue and Customs: Telephone Services

Treasury written question – answered on 14th December 2011.

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Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Shipley of 6 July 2010, Official Report, column 513W, on Revenue and Customs: telephone numbers, what the terms of reference are of his Department's review of its telephone numbering strategy; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

HMRC initiated an internal and informal review of its numbering strategy for customer-facing helplines in January 2010 with the twin objectives of:

reducing the cost to vulnerable customers of calling HMRC, where that can be delivered at an appropriate balance with HMRC costs and business performance; improving the sustainability of it's Contact Centre business, by anticipating and mitigating future business costs associated with its numbering strategy.

The Government subsequently accepted the recommendations of the Treasury Sub-Committee in its 16th report “Administration and effectiveness of HM revenue and Customs” (HC731), published on 30 July 2011, that HMRC investigates alternatives to 0845 numbers, including 0345 and freephone numbers, as part of the process of agreeing its next telephony (due in June 2013) and that as an interim measure the Department should examine whether a non-0845 number could be provided for tax credit claimants.

The full text of the Government response was published by the Committee on 26 October 2011 (HC1533) and is available at

Additionally, and further to my answer to Fiona Mactaggart of 19 October 2011, Hansard, column 967W, I can now confirm that HMRC introduced a new 0345 prefixed number for its tax credit helpline on 8 December 2012.

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David Hickson - fair telecoms campaign
Posted on 19 Dec 2011 12:18 pm (Report this annotation)

In this refined and complex response, Mr Gauke misses the essential point.

0845 telephone numbers inevitably provide subsidy to the user of the number at the expense of callers. If HMRC is content to fund its activity through service charges imposed on those who access it by telephone, then it may continue using 0845 numbers.

In advance of new regulations to be announced by Ofcom in the New Year, PhonePay Plus, the regulator of premium rate phone services, is currently consulting on whether it should take on the task of regulating HMRC and other users of the lower rated premium numbers, including 0845.

In a media release on this topic, I ask whether HMRC will be content to pay 0.35% of its revenue from telephone numbers as a fee to the self regulator of the paid-for telephone services industry. (Taxing the tax collector!)

There need be no cause for delay - All HMRC (and DWP, and NHS) 084 numbers should be migrated to 03 forthwith.

(My submissions to the Treasury sub-committee enquiry were published and are available at:
Written evidence submitted by David Hickson, and Further written evidence submitted by David Hickson)