HMRC Defends Twitter Tax Queries Decision

Jan 06, 2015

HMRC has defended itself against claims that its asking people to “Tweet” tax enquiries to the @HMRCcustomers account was “laughable.”

Earlier this month, UK newspaper The Independent reported that that the Department has asked taxpayers to Tweet any queries they had instead of phone government helplines because waiting times had more than doubled in a year.

Director of communications for HMRC Stephen Hardwick said Twitter should be seen as a “supplement” to calling helplines.

However, the request has been heavily criticised, with Conservative MP Mark Garnier claiming he could not think of one tax-related query that could be condensed into the social network’s 140 character limit.

Shadow Treasury Minister Shabana Mahmood said the suggestion “beggars belief,” while Public Accounts Committee Chair Margaret Hodge said it was “laughable.”

“No customer based service should tolerate such a poor service and both ministers and senior management should simply sort this out,” she claimed.

Despite this, Hardwick has defended his proposal to use Twitter as support for helplines.

“We are serious about the use of [the social network] as a supplement to going online and using the telephone,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.

“What we don’t want people to do is to give us any personal details. It’s a very useful social media device to get guidance, to help point people to where they can get information.

“It’s a pilot, it is starting small, but the whole point of social media is you answer a question once and hundreds of thousands of people can see the answer, rather than answering the phone to all of those people asking the same question,” he claimed.

“Sorry” For Waiting Times

The director also apologised for the poor telephone service that led HMRC to consider the use of social networks instead, claiming he was “really sorry.”

“What we are doing for the self-assessment peak in January, which is one of our two big peaks in the year along with the tax credits peak in July, is we are putting 1500 people on the phones to help,” Hardwick claimed.

“We are a bit like the Royal Mail with the Christmas post – you don’t staff up all year for a very short-term peak, so we are moving people flexibly in and out of the telephones,” he added.


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