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Get in line now: HMRC says wait times are rising

Her Majesty & Customs recently revealed that wait times are increasing precipitously when it comes to helpline answers, with times doubling year-on-year.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s a safe bet that you know the self-assessment tax return deadline is looming. January 31 is looming ever closer, and that means plenty of Brits – especially contractors and other self-employed individuals – will be burning the midnight oil to get their financial details sorted in time to submit their returns. That also means that there’s going to be some hellishly long queues for anyone ringing up the tax authority helplines – and HMRC says the wait times you’re going to encounter are likely to be worse than they were last year.

According to the taxman itself, wait times in September of this year were twice what they were 12 months prior to that. Anyone calling up a call centre was on line an average of nearly 11 minutes. Now I know that doesn’t sound really all that long but when you’re sitting there with your financial information spread across your desk, eager and nervous about getting something cleared up so you can finally submit your return, 11 minutes feels like bloody hours.

HMRC said it was shifting around 1,500 additional staff to man the phone lines this month in order to provide a bit of relief for anyone with a self-assessment question, you know as well as I do that there’s no guarantee that this will help or not. With the tax authority fielding something like 70 million phone calls per year, it sounds to me that HMRC needs a fair bit more than just 1,500 new phone centre staff.

In other words, you should make yourself comfortable if you’re planning on ringing up the taxman to answer a question or two ahead of you submitting your self-assessment return. Perhaps next year you can begin the whole process a bit sooner so you’re not caught in the press of people who all waited to the last minute like you did. I know life is hard and things get in the way but you’re never going to get those 11 minutes of your life back; wouldn’t you rather do something else during that time like spending it with your family?

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