Subbies face renewed disruption after HMRC shuts self-assessment helpline for the summer

Subbies face renewed disruption after HMRC shuts self-assessment helpline for the summer

29th June 2023 | Hudson Contract

HMRC has decided to shut its self-assessment telephone helpline for three months, just weeks after strikes disrupted services for the self-employed.

The department is piloting a “seasonal model” in which it will direct self-assessment queries from the helpline to its digital services, including online guidance, digital assistant and webchat. The helpline is closed from June 12 until September 4.

Hudson Contract has urged HMRC to reopen the helpline, as reported in the Building, Construction Enquirer and The Construction Index websites.

A number of self-employed tradespeople contacted us with their concerns about the closure, which follows on from the disruption of last month’s industrial action at HMRC. The PCS union said just 63 per cent of calls to the Construction Industry Scheme helpline were answered during the three-week strike.

Managing director Ian Anfield said: “We know from experience the helpline is by far the easiest way for subbies to quickly resolve any issues with their self-assessment, especially if they are paying higher than necessary tax deductions under CIS. It is simply not practical for tradespeople to get online, register for digital services and then look out for HMRC messages when they are busy working on building sites.”

The chairwoman of the Treasury Committee, Harriett Baldwin MP, has questioned the impact the closure will have on taxpayers, whether an analysis and a consultation has taken place and if the helpline will be reopened should the detriment to taxpayers be greater than expected.

Mr Anfield added: “We would urge HMRC to reopen the helpline. Some self-employed people use refunds from their tax returns to fund holidays, newly registered people are faced with a registration deadline in early October and the last date for paper submissions falls at the end of October. The helpline being closed now will impact all of these groups and HMRC will struggle with the inevitable backlog when it reopens in September.

“We are already seeing private companies stepping in with alternative helplines, which means the self-employed will be paying for advice they should have received for free from HMRC.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that 184,000 low earners were fined by HMRC last year for failing to complete a self-assessment tax form on time, even though they had no tax to pay in the first place, according to think thank Tax Policy Associates as reported in The Guardian.

In other news, the National Audit Office has criticised HMRC for excluding significant costs of £1.5 billion to taxpayers in its business case for its flagship Making Tax Digital programme. The upfront costs related to customers updating their own systems and obtaining tax advice.