HMRC’s complaints process

1 September 2023

To initiate a complaint, you have to complete an online form detailing the reason for your complaint. 

advice : Bookkeeping and COVID-19

Taxpayers who are taxed under self-assessment, may not be aware that HMRC phone service was closed for three months until the 4th of September. 

HMRC has been trying a new seasonal model for the self-assessment helpline by directing queries to the department’s digital services to enable 350 of HMRC’s staff to take urgent calls on other lines and answer outstanding customer correspondence. Because of this, the only method by which to make contact was via a letter. Callers to that line were directed to use HMRC’s online services including digital assistant and webchat.

The Adjudicator (an independent tier of complaint handling for HMRC) states in its Office annual report 2023 that HMRC’s complaints handling ‘has still not fully recovered from post-pandemic disruption. Although recovered in some areas there are still significant backlogs in others where high-volume complaints are not expected to recover until well into next year.

HMRC has a complaints system that follows a tiered structure. To initiate a complaint, you have to complete an online form detailing the reason for your complaint (HMRC confirms that around a third of complaints are made this way). 

Tier 1 is where HMRC will attempt to resolve the complaint by reviewing its records by allocating someone to deal with the complaint, advising the complainant of that person’s contact details and who will subsequently advise of the outcome of the complaint. Currently, correspondence is in writing but the intention is to move to phoning or emailing the complainant. HMRC confirms that the majority of complaints are resolved at Tier 1. However, if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, then the case is escalated to Tier 2 (approximately 7% of complaints are escalated to this level, where a different individual will review the complaint).

If the taxpayer remains unsatisfied with the outcome after the Tier 2 review, the next level is to ask for the Adjudicator’s Office (AO) to review the complaint. Being independent, their work is restricted as they can only consider and rule on specific types of complaints detailed in the 2018 Guidance as being:

  • Mistakes and Unreasonable delays
  • Poor and misleading advice
  • Inappropriate staff behaviour
  • The use of discretion

When there is a referral to the AO, the head of HMRC is made aware of the complaint. The AO’s 2022/23 report confirms that during 2022/2023 they resolved 630 complaints. The number of complaints partially or fully upheld was 293. 

In some cases, HMRC can offer financial redress for costs incurred, provided that they are proportionate e.g., postage, telephone costs and professional fees. Payments for ‘worry or distress’ may be applicable if someone has suffered particularly from the consequences of a mistake, although HMRC notes that these payments are typically modest and usually under £100.

If a case reaches the AO, they too have the power to recommend compensation. The AO report shows that during the year 2022/23 it recommended HMRC pay £303,799 as redress for ‘worry and distress, poor complaints handling, costs and liability given up’ (i.e., the amount not collected). The low amount of compensation awarded could explain why so few complaints are elevated to the AO. 

There is a final appeal level should the taxpayer remain dissatisfied – they can write to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) via their MP.

HMRC receives tens of thousands of complaints, yet the AO’s annual report shows that only a tiny fraction reaches them. The complaints process usually takes six months or more to reach a decision; taking time, resources and money, made worse for the complainant because penalties and interest charges continue to accrue. 

The information available on this page is of a general nature and is not intended to provide specific advice to any individuals or entities. We work hard to ensure this information is accurate at the time of publishing, although there is no guarantee that such information is accurate at the time you read this. We recommend individuals and companies seek professional advice on their circumstances and matters.