The number of staff has dropped by 1,143 from 20,139 at the end of 2022 to 18,996 in December 2023, representing a 5.6% decrease, revealed a freedom of information request by RSM.
Customer service teams make up nearly a third (30.9%) of the entire HMRC full-time workforce.
HMRC had a total headcount of 65,999 in the December payroll with 61,413 of staff in full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. In January 2023 there were 65,704 FTE staff members, reducing the workforce by 4,291 staff, down by 6.5%.
With HMRC’s plans to cut phone helplines and force people onto the website and webchat in future, there is unlikely to a concerted plan to hire more staff, putting more pressure on the existing workforce.
When providing the data HMRC told RSM that ‘we have moved to a flexible workforce model where our customer advisers can operate between different channels of customer communications such as answering calls, processing customer correspondence, or addressing web chat enquiries throughout the day.
‘This allows us to react to peaks in demand and deploy staff more efficiently. We no longer have customer services staff working exclusively in call centres.’
Chris Etherington, partner at RSM said: ‘2023 represented an “annus horribilis” for HMRC’s customer service teams.
‘Perhaps most worrying is that there appears to be a general trend that staff retention rates are worsening progressively over the year, indicating that perhaps worse is still to come.’
Staff levels decreasing at this rate means ‘there is a tipping point where a lack of resource can be demoralising for staff being put under increasing pressure, ultimately leading to more departures’, Etherington said.
‘With more demands being placed on fewer staff, it is not immediately clear how HMRC will find a path back to the performance levels being asked of them.’
Another concern is that an increasingly complex tax landscape and more people being dragged into higher rates of tax will apply more pressure to HMRC staff.
‘The 2021 Budget started the recent trend of “stealth tax” measures, when it was announced by Rishi Sunak as Chancellor that the income tax personal allowance and higher rate threshold were to be frozen from April 2022 until 2026.
‘In turn, more individuals will have found themselves paying tax for the first time and those paying higher rates of income tax increased. It was perhaps inevitable that the demands on HMRC would increase as a result.’
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