Friday, February 12, 2010

Hanging on the telephone

Hanging on the telephone

Interesting piece in today’s Independent by Andreas Whittam Smith, arguing that the basic incompetence and inefficiency of Government and Government services is acting as a drain on the nation, and that it is partly a result of the Government/media relationship, where the media demands 24 hour interaction, and the Government responds by, effectively, running a permanent campaign rather than an administration.  One part in particular rang true:

Could this be connected with the HMRC's inability to perform even the simplest tasks, such as answering the telephone? Another enquiry found that in its Customer Contact Directorate only 57 per cent of 103 million call attempts made last year were answered. That means that a staggering total of 44 million calls to HMRC rang and rang until the exasperated caller put down the phone.

HMRC, especially since the merger of the IR and Customs, have sought to replace the classic ‘everything not expressly prohibited is permitted’ attitude with regard to taxation with a requirement to clear any new scheme with themselves before doing it.  This involves junior lawyers and accountants ringing up HMRC offices, explaining a complex transaction several times and then getting a deeply equivocal answer from someone only prepared to give their first name.  The lawyer then writes an attendance note that says, in effect, we are confident that the client’s £600 million takeover structure is legitimate from a tax perspective because Julie in Glasgow said she couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it.  This was my job for six months three years ago.

It usually took about an hour to find a phone line where someone would pick up.  In other words, on average you could expect to ring HMRC five or six times before being answered, letting the phone ring off the hook each time.  I’m surprised that their answering rate is as high as 57%.

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