HMRC Restricts Helpline Services Ahead of SA Deadline: What to Do to Avoid Fines

January 25, 2024

The HMRC has taken a drastic step by limiting its helpline services, particularly for self-assessment (SA) queries, just weeks before the 2022/23 SA deadline on 31 January. This decision, part of a broader reduction in helpline resources, raises concerns for individuals and accountants seeking assistance.

In 2023, HMRC faced multiple challenges, leading to the closure of various helplines, both temporarily and permanently. This move aimed to redirect staff to address pressing issues and meet internal standards. However, the latest cut to helpline resources, especially during the crucial SA period, appears to be more urgent.

With the looming SA deadline, HMRC justifies its helpline restrictions by suggesting that many queries can either wait until after the busy period or be resolved through alternative means. The primary alternative proposed is the use of online guidance, where HMRC claims the majority of callers can find solutions to their questions.

However, the effectiveness of this online approach is debatable. Automated directions to the guidance often prove imprecise, leaving individuals lost in irrelevant information. Additionally, there's scepticism about HMRC's confidence in the online guidance, with concerns that it overestimates its usefulness.

The potential consequences are significant. Failure to submit a tax return on time may result in a £100 fine, unless a reasonable excuse is provided. HMRC's refusal to answer SA-related calls is not considered a reasonable excuse, placing taxpayers at risk.

For those struggling to find relevant guidance, the advice is to proceed with filing the SA tax return by 31 January to avoid the £100 fine. Include a note in the additional information section, explaining the situation. After 31 January, HMRC plans to lift helpline limits, allowing for post-deadline inquiries and corrections to submitted returns.

In case online guidance doesn't suffice, individuals are encouraged to call HMRC and follow its directions. If assistance remains elusive, submitting the tax return by the deadline and documenting any issues faced in providing information is crucial. Corrections can be made after 31 January to address any inaccuracies.

As HMRC grapples with helpline challenges, taxpayers are advised to navigate the SA process diligently, ensuring compliance and avoiding penalties.

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