HM Revenue and Customs is changing the way it deals with routine calls by trialling answering calls by text, rather than a person.
According to the BBC, from Thursday (19 January) the tax authority will send a direct website link by text to some people who want to reset a password or find their reference number.
This move aims to improve its customer service record after MPs have criticised HMRC for its poor call-handling record over the years. The answer-by-text trial will continue until April to help free up call handlers for more complex issues.
HMRC is expecting 170,000 calls this month with simple questions before the self-assessment tax return deadline. More than 12 million people need to complete their self-assessments online before 31 January.
Requests that will be answered with a text and website link include locating a Unique Tracking Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number, registering for HMRC online services and resetting a lost or forgotten online service password or user ID.
Callers will have the option to receive a link or to speak to someone for other inquiries such as filling in the tax return, getting a National Insurance number by letter, or requests for income and employment history.
‘Could not cope with demand’
The Public Accounts Committee of MPs said earlier this month that taxpayers and their accountants were receiving an unacceptable level of service from HMRC. Its customer service staff has been cut from 25,500 to 19,500 in the last five years.
The committee said: "We were surprised to learn that at times in the past, HMRC has simply closed its telephone line when it could not cope with demand. It is not acceptable not to answer calls from people who are trying to pay the government money".
Richard West, director of personal tax operations at HMRC, said: "Redirecting these sorts of queries to online services should help customers find the answer more quickly. It also means calls from customers during the current self-assessment peak, whose questions cannot easily be answered online and require help from an adviser, get the appropriate support they need.
"Customers who cannot use digital services will be able to get support in the normal way. This is available through our telephony service and through our extra support team for those who have difficulty using our other services.”