Nigel Holland
Nigel Holland

The treatment of taxpayers by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is undeniably alarming and concerning. The shift of Whitehall business towards digital platforms, known as “digital by default,” has been steadily progressing, leaving many individuals without convenient access to essential services. This migration, whether embraced or not, has affected all sectors of public interaction.

Individuals lacking easy internet access, technological proficiency, or simply a preference for traditional means of communication are effectively marginalized. Particularly distressing is HMRC’s recent announcement of its intention to close its helpline for half of the year, under the guise of promoting online usage. This move appears more geared towards easing administrative burdens within the tax office or facilitating remote work arrangements, rather than genuinely enhancing service for taxpayers.

Jeremy Hunt, responding to widespread public outrage, pledged to revisit the proposal, despite its abrupt announcement on the official Gov.UK website merely 24 hours prior. Although he instructed a “pause” on the changes, it remains uncertain whether they will be entirely abandoned, given the prevailing “digital by default” ethos.

While certain online services, such as renewing a vehicle tax or obtaining a passport, may indeed offer convenience, the complexity of tax matters, especially for the self-employed, cannot be overstated. Taxpayers prioritize accuracy in their filings, aware of the potential consequences of errors. Previously, HMRC prided itself on prompt responses, even accommodating personal appointments for tax consultations.

The underlying assumption driving these reforms is that digital solutions are universally easy, accessible, and modern. However, the cost-effectiveness of such measures remains dubious, particularly when there’s no discernible reduction in bureaucratic overhead. Moreover, a growing number of older individuals are being drawn into the tax system, necessitating online submissions, yet faced with inadequate support for half of the year.

In summary, HMRC’s decision to curtail helpline services underscores a disconcerting trend towards prioritizing administrative efficiency over taxpayer assistance. This approach not only disregards the diverse needs of the populace but also risks exacerbating disparities in access to essential government services.