HMRC to close self-assessment helpline this spring and summer just as tax allowances are cut

HMRC plans to close its self-assessment helpline between April and September. Here is how it could affect you

Man waiting on phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The taxman is set to shut its self-assessment telephone helpline over the summer in a new blow for those looking to sort complex tax situations in the coming months.

HMRC said its self-assessment helpline won’t take calls from 8 April to 30 September 2024.

It may be a quieter period for HMRC as the new financial year will have just begun, but it coincides with cuts to many tax allowances.

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Such a move could hit anyone with complex queries on issues such as payments on account that will be due in July or about child benefit changes.

This isn’t the first time HMRC has temporarily closed its helplines.

It trialled a shutdown between June 2023 to September 2023 last year and it focused on priority queries between 11 December 2023 until 31 January in the run up to the self-assessment deadline at the start of this year.

HMRC argues that many customer issues can be solved online.

But critics suggest HMRC is withdrawing support just as many thresholds such as capital gains tax and dividend allowances are changing, while more people are brought into higher tax bands due to fiscal drag.

“At a time when the government has made it much more likely that many more people who never previously needed to file a self-assessment form now have to, it is odd that they have reduced the help available over the summer,” says Rachael Griffin, tax and financial planning expert at wealth manager Quilter.

“By cutting the capital gains tax allowance to £3,000 and the dividend allowance to £500 in the new tax year many thousands more people will need to pay tax for the first time.“

Why is HMRC closing its self-assessment helpline?

Waiting times to speak to an HMRC agent rose from around 12 minutes in 2022 to  more than 25 minutes as of the start of this year, with many people complaining of hour-long waits or being cut off.

Rather than hire more staff, the taxman’s solution appears to be to just not pick up the phone to anyone.

It claims around two-thirds of calls to the self-assessment helpline are routine or simple enquiries, which can be resolved online using its digital services, tools and guidance. 

So by not having a helpline, HMRC hopes more people will use its online tools, videos and guides.

HMRC suggests this will make it quicker and easier for callers to find the information it needs and clear its own staff workload.

Alice Haine, personal finance analyst for Bestinvest, says this is a nightmare for those that like to file their tax return early and may encounter any glitches along the way, particularly those who are new to the process and prefer to talk to a human.

“Tax affairs can be complex and some people need a helping hand," she says.

"Closing the helpline effectively cuts people off from support over the phone and could lead to people making more errors. While some people might be able to solve any stumbling blocks themselves through online support services, others might find the terminology too complicated to comprehend.”

Neela Chauhan, partner at national accountancy group UHY Hacker Young, warned that HMRC’s customer service crisis threatens to hit a new low.

“Individuals and businesses need to resolve issues like tax returns quickly." says Chauhan.

"Delays like the ones we’re seeing now increase the risk of penalties for customers.”

“Delays in processing customer queries also hinders HMRC’s ability to resolve tax issues.This is in turn reduces the amount of tax HMRC collects – it is in their interest to fix this crisis promptly.”

How to get help if you can't talk to HMRC

HMRC’s own impact assessment recognises this will affect those who complete self-assessment forms and people who claim child benefit.

It coincides with the payments on account deadline in July, as well as the extension of the child benefit high income charge threshold.

Additionally, anyone making an early start on their 2023/2024 tax return may not be able to get support with complex queries.

HMRC said vulnerable and digitally excluded customers will be given an alternative number to call, while its Agent Helpline will remain open to manage contact from professionals such as accountants on behalf of their clients.

People calling the self-assessment line from 8 April to 30 September 2024 will be directed to digital solutions. 

You will hear a recorded message that’s tailored to your call reason and if you call from a mobile phone, you will be sent a text message with a link to the information you need. 

If the call reason is not clear or if there are multiple queries, HMRC said callers will be sent links to online services such as its webchat.

Griffin warns that the changes mean people who want to make an early start on their filing or have queries on payments on account due in July have no help at hand, which could end up just adding to HMRC’s workload.

“This may end up creating a vicious cycle for HMRC as people could end up making more errors which it then needs to rectify creating more work for itself,” she says.

Marc Shoffman
Contributing editor

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist specialising in business, personal finance and property. His work has appeared in print and online publications ranging from FT Business to The Times, Mail on Sunday and The i newspaper. He also co-presents the In For A Penny financial planning podcast.