HMRC Complaints

How to complain to HMRC

A record number of people are now obliged to submit self-assessment tax returns, which will likely prompt a greater number of complaints.

As we covered in our recent article, HMRC resources are currently stretched to the limit and beyond, which is impacting efficiency and the formal complaints process. A record number of people are now obliged to submit self-assessment tax returns, which will likely prompt a greater number of complaints. While many of these complaints will be due to simple mistakes or limited knowledge of how the system works, they still need to be recorded and reviewed.

Due to the challenges facing HMRC and the significantly extended response times, we take a very different approach from some of our colleagues in the accountancy industry. Prior to looking at our process in more detail, it is probably useful to consider the formal, more official approach.

How many complaints does HMRC receive each year?

As we await the HMRC annual report for 2023/24, looking back to the 2022/23 publication shows that HMRC received 91,217 complaints during that tax year. This is an annual increase of 13.7%, and the report acknowledges that the majority of complaints are related to “delays in operational services.” The average response time increased from 29.6 days in the previous tax year to 33.4 days, and many suspect we will see a further increase after the current tax year comes to a close.

Constantly under pressure, we have seen several tweaks to the complaints procedure, which include:-

  • The introduction of a new Complaint Handling Analytical Report Tool (CHART) which prompts call handlers to collect as much information as possible.
  • A withdrawal from targets/measures and more focus placed upon complaint handling principles under HMRC’s Charter standards.
  • Enhanced training and using the experience of previous complaints to improve customer services going forward.

While these are very encouraging words from HMRC, the periodic closure of helplines and more focus on online reporting/communication are not helping matters in the short term. We also know that HMRC is currently targeting a 33% reduction in telephone queries, which is likely to enhance the existing complaints bottleneck.

HMRC complaints process

Even though we are seeing an expansion of HMRC online resources relating to common questions and queries, many believe that a lack of direct communication will lead to more complaints in the future. As concerns grow about making a mistake with an online submission without speaking to an HMRC customer services operator, a growing number of individuals and companies are now seeking advice and guidance from accountants and financial advisers.

To put the situation into context, recent data shows that HMRC receives 38 million calls a year, although 10 million went unanswered. In theory, the HMRC complaints process is relatively straightforward, but it’s another story in practice.

If you’re looking to complain to HMRC, the formal process is as follows:-

Initial acknowledgement

After a formal complaint is made, HMRC aims to acknowledge receipt as promptly as possible, typically within a few working days. This is a critical element of the complaints process, as issues and queries are recorded and then moved on to the next stage.

Tier One – Frontline resolution

This stage of the complaints process focuses on relatively straightforward complaints and queries, and it aims to resolve them within 15 working days.

Tier Two – Escalation to a complaints handler

A complaints handler will review complaints which require further investigation or cannot be resolved at the frontline level. The complainant should receive a full response within 45 working days, presenting a resolution or dismissing the complaint.

Review by customer service consultant

Where the complainant disagrees with the response from a tier two review, they can request further investigation by a customer service consultant. In theory, HMRC should respond within 30 working days.

Referral to Adjudicator’s Office

After going through the various stages of the formal HMRC complaints process, where no acceptable resolution can be found, the complaint is passed to the Adjudicator’s Office for an independent review. HMRC is obliged to acknowledge receipt of the complainant’s request within five working days, but a detailed response can take as long as eight weeks.

How long might your complaint take to resolve?

If we focus on the official approach to complaints, from initial acknowledgement to a review by a customer service consultant, it could take up to 90 working days (18 weeks). For complaints that go to the Adjudicator’s Office, there is a further five working days to acknowledge receipt and up to 8 weeks for a detailed response.

Considering the average response time is now more than 33 days, it is easy to see how the complaints timetable could be significantly extended. Unfortunately, the situation takes an even more serious turn when we consider the practical experiences of clients and accountants.

Our revised approach to HMRC complaints

While we fully acknowledge the challenges for HMRC staff and the acute lack of investment in recent years, our first duty is to our clients. So, while many accountancy firms are reluctant to upset HMRC, we are now taking a different view. There are formal standards to which HMRC is held accountable, and if we don’t hold them to account, who will?

With a degree of reluctance, we have now taken a new approach to formal HMRC complaints:-

  • If we don’t receive a reply within 28 days, we will issue a further communication requesting a reply within seven days.
  • Where there is still no response, we will contact our HMRC account manager (we have a formally allocated account manager even though we don’t know their name).
  • If there is still no movement, we then advise HMRC that we will be writing to “The Officer in Charge” to at least receive acknowledgement of our complaint.

After this, we move to a more formal approach, raising a tier one complaint and taking this further if we are unsatisfied with the response or proposed resolution. Due to the significantly extended timescales we are currently experiencing, where appropriate, we will make a claim against HMRC for a relevant portion of our professional fees. 

Complaining  to HMRC – Summary

While appreciative of the challenges faced by HMRC, it is essential to remember that our core responsibility is to ensure the well-being of our clients. Thankfully, our expertise and experience mean that we can answer many client queries, avoiding the need to approach HMRC. However, where there are disputes, or additional information is required, we may need to revert to HMRC. Even though, in theory, we have “additional support” and options within HMRC, compared to individuals and businesses, we find that even relatively minor issues can drag on for years.

Amidst these challenges and delays, many people forget the additional financial and mental strain this can put on individuals and businesses. The ongoing switch to online communication/resolutions and the introduction of “Making Tax Digital” are seen by many as a broad solution to the current issues within HMRC. Unfortunately, the roll-out of some “Making Tax Digital” services has been delayed, and the cost has increased by 400%. Not the update we had hoped for!

If you have any questions or queries about taxation matters, please feel free to contact us before making a formal approach to HMRC. We have a team of experts with decades of experience who are ready and able to help when needed.


Chris Wilkins FCCA is a Chartered Certified Accountant, Registered Auditor and the managing partner of Wilkins Southworth based in Barnes, South West London

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