Four million ignored calls to HMRC 'to increase if IR35 changes'

The alarm for the UK’s 4.7million self-employed has been raised, after the taxman’s figures showed that almost as many calls to his helpline – 4.3million – go completely unanswered.

Disclosed by HMRC, the phone figures were branded “disappointing” by Meg Hillier MP, particularly for people like self-employed freelancers who have to sort out their own taxes.

Her comments were echoed by freelance body IPSE, which warns that the instances of the taxman simply not picking up the phone is set to increase should IR35 be reformed again.

“These problems are only going to get worse if the government continues to introduce more complex and more burdensome legislation which affects the self-employed,” the body said.

“If HMRC are already under pressure to pick up the phone, imagine how chaotic it will be…if the government proceeds with its ill-judged proposal to extend IR35 [reform] to the private sector.”

According to the full set of figures covering a total of 43million calls made to HMRC in the last year, 10% went unanswered. And 14% took more than 10 minutes to be answered.

But the responsiveness rate is actually worse, because the 14% does not include the time that callers have to spend in its automated system – which can add four minutes to the wait time.

“Time spent on the phone is time the self-employed and independent professionals aren’t earning money,” said IPSE ‘s deputy director Andy Chamberlain.

“The self-employed don’t have an army of consultants and experts to assist them with complex matters of tax, and they rely on HMRC to provide them with timely assistance.”

Ms Hillier agreed. “Hanging on the phone during the day is difficult to do for a lot of people,” she said. “[HMRC] is collecting tax on hard-earned money and it needs to make it easier for people to play by the rules.”

But the Revenue is actually doing the opposite, warns the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

“[If the] IR35 off-payroll rules [are extended] to the private sector…businesses will be required to make difficult determinations about whether contractors should be taxed liked employees.”

The association added: “If these ill-judged proposals go through, who will be there to pick up the phone when businesses need assistance?"

HMRC reportedly says it has “improved our customer service standards,” evidenced by quicker call response times, which have fallen from 12 minutes (2015/16) to below five minutes for the past two years.

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