HMRC and VOA’s response to the Adjudicator’s Office 2023 annual report

0

The Adjudicator’s Office Annual Report was published in June 2023. The report highlighted learning based on insight from investigated complaints that were conducted in 2022 to 2023. This is the department’s – HMRC and its executive agency, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) – published response to the Adjudicator’s Annual Report.   

We value the Adjudicator’s feedback and understand the importance of learning from complaints to improve customer experience. This was Helen Megarry’s final report, and we would like to thank her alongside welcoming Mike McMahon as the new Adjudicator.  

The Adjudicator’s Annual Report highlighted that during 2022 to 2023 our complaints performance had not fully recovered from post pandemic disruption. We acknowledge that 2022 to 2023 was a challenging period across our phone and post services. During this year, our customer base grew and more of our customers had increasingly complex needs.

As noted in our Annual Report and Accounts for 2022 to 2023, we are implementing vital changes to make us more efficient in serving customers and managing their compliance. We are committed to reducing the volume of contact through phone and post by 30% by 2025 compared with 2021 to 2022, enabling more customers to resolve their issues quickly and easily online, and freeing our advisors up to help those who need extra support or have more complex tax affairs.  

Working together  

We continue to maintain a good level of engagement with the Adjudicator’s Office. This closer working and open transparent communication enable us to maximise the learning we gain from complaints to improve our services. We take a proactive approach to handling complaints by providing the Adjudicator’s Office with early insight on issues and customer feedback.  

During 2022 to 2023, we welcomed the introduction of the Adjudicator’s new reporting process which provided a renewed focus on us delivering our Charter Standards. The new three-level approach gives valuable and constructive feedback, encouraging learning across the department.  

The Adjudicator has a valuable role at HMRC’s senior strategic forums including the Customer Experience Committee which support and challenge ExCom on customer experience-related issues and help the department deliver on its strategic objectives. 

Complaint handling   

The Adjudicator endorses our strategic ambition to transform complaints handling through the implementation of our complaint strategy. During 2022 to 2023, we made advancements in the following areas of complaint handling to drive forward improvements to the customer journey:  

  • we enhanced our existing training to build the capability of our complaint handlers which is aligned to the UK Central Government Complaints Standards. This included letter writing to improve communications with our customers
  • Customer Compliance Group began consolidating their complaint functions to ensure a consistent approach to complaint handling. This is in addition to sharing insight, data and learning opportunities to improve customer experience 
  • Customer Services Group started to develop the Service Excellence Programme which will focus on resolving customer issues at the earliest opportunity
  • we conducted a review of our oldest complaint cases to gain insight on the root causes for delay and to resolve complex cases
  • we launched our new case management system, the Complaint Handling Analysis and Reporting Tool (CHART), which was a joint project with the Adjudicator’s Office. The ambition of CHART is to enable better use of customer insight to deliver improvements to customer experience

Our complaint strategy is aligned with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s (PHSO) UK Central Government Complaint Standards, which were developed in collaboration with government departments. The UK Central Government Complaint Standards also align with our Charter Standards and will deliver a consistent cross-government approach to complaint handling. We are leading the way as a trail blazer to embed the standards across government. This includes contributing to the PHSO’s review of cross-government complaint guidance to share and adopt any best practice.   

Learning from complaints  

We have a multi-layered approach to gathering and acting on customer feedback from complaints. This is done at both a caseworker level to build capability and at a corporate level to identify trends, understand root causes and initiate service improvements. Although there is more to do, the delivery of our complaint strategy combined with the adoption of the PHSO UK Central Government Complaints Standards will ensure that we maximise learning from complaints and deliver transformational change. 

HMRC’s Complaint Strategy and Insight Board brings together expertise to seek resolution of cross-cutting issues in complaints. The board also enables us to respond to the Adjudicator’s feedback to improve customer experience. Examples of changes we implemented in 2022 to 2023 include:  

  • clearer signposting on GOV.UK that explained how customers can complain online
  • improved the GOV.UK complaints landing page making it easier for customers who need extra support to alert us to any special requirements or vulnerabilities 
  • enhanced the Complaints digital i-Form making it easier for customers to complain online
  • delivered a series of insight events on key issues for complaints handlers to build capability and improve customer experience
  • introduced a customer survey which allows customers who raise a complaint the opportunity to provide feedback on their complaint handling experience. The survey insight is analysed to improve customer experience

Customer focus  

Our Charter defines the service and standard of behaviour that customers should expect when interacting with us. We continue to embed our Charter Standards, ensuring they remain visible and embodied throughout HMRC. The delivery of our Charter Standards is a key element of our strategy to build trust with customers.  

The Adjudicator recognises our Charter as the driver for cultural change, which is acknowledged by our senior leaders. We welcome the Adjudicator’s continuous feedback and learning; examples can be seen from the case studies outlined in their annual report. We will work with the Adjudicator’s Office to ensure a consistent approach to delivering our services against all aspects of the Charter.   

Customer Compliance Group are embedding the Charter Standards through the application of the Compliance Professional Standards. Insight from complaints has been used to improve customer experience and reduce delays for customers. This includes improved guidance for checking Research and Development claims and VAT partial exemption calculations. Customer Services Group are embedding the standards through their Service Excellence programme. The next step is to ensure that the Charter Standards are built into decision-making across HMRC

Performance   

We experienced an increase in new complaints in 2022 to 2023 of 13.7% compared to the previous year with delays in our operational services being a key driver for that increase. Average response times for dealing with new complaints were much higher than we would like at 33.4 days.  

Despite this increase, the Adjudicator’s Annual Report highlighted that the number of HMRC complaints escalated to the Adjudicator decreased in 2022 to 2023 compared to 2021 to 2022. In part this was due to COVID-related complaints continuing into 2021 to 2022.  

Although we continue to resolve over 98% of complaints internally, there was a notable rise in customers complaining to the Adjudicator prematurely because they felt unable to gain an early resolution from us or they had not entered or completed our internal complaints process.  

We acknowledge that our service levels are not where we expect them to be, and we are working hard to rectify this by improving our digital services for our customers. This will allow us to identify and focus on those customers with vulnerabilities and complex needs. We are aware of the impact on the Adjudicator’s Office as some customers escalate their complaint prematurely. We have implemented some key changes to reduce premature escalations including working in partnership with specialist organisations to simplify and enhance our guidance, and building the capability of our colleagues in customer-facing roles to identify customers who need extra help. Also, we are managing customer expectations by acknowledging their complaint and keeping them informed throughout the handling of their complaint via SMS alerts. 

We recognise that we need to do more to tackle the root cause of systemic complaints and consider how we adapt to the changing expectations from our customers as, like many other government departments, HMRC continues to see a year-on-year increase in new complaints. 

Future ambition   

We acknowledge the challenges ahead to improve our customer service standards with reduced resources. We are focusing on enabling our customers to self-serve by prioritising the following areas during 2023 to 2024 to deliver improvements to complaint handling:  

  • strengthening our offering for customers who complain online by making our digital services more accessible and easier to use. This will include ensuring our timescales for complaint handling are consistent across our platforms to manage customer’s expectations
  • enhance the complaints I-Form to make it easier for customers to complain, better manage their expectations and improve the efficiency with which we deal with complaints
  • Customer Services Group have developed a Complaints Service Improvement Plan. The plan will further strengthen complaints handling by optimising efficiency and improving consistency of complaints handling
  • we have collaborated with the Adjudicator’s Office through a series of workshops and identified several new ways of working which will improve existing levels of service.   
  • Customer Compliance Group are reviewing their model to consider further consolidation of complaints. The benefit of this is to increase the level of impartiality when investigating and resolving complaints and to support operational teams in identifying improvements to their service

Valuation Office Agency 

Last year was significant for the VOA. Alongside our core services we delivered 2.1 million bespoke property valuations for the 2023 Revaluation. Revaluations are always a huge undertaking, and understandably lead to increased scrutiny of our work. Increased volumes of business rates checks as we approached the closure of the 2017 rating list along with substantial increases in customers challenging their Council Tax bands has had an impact with rising numbers of complaints. 

VOA complaints escalated to the Adjudicator during 2022 to 2023 were consistent with recent previous years. In total the number remains low with only 35 investigations; one complaint was fully upheld, 3 were partially upheld and 7 were not upheld. Twenty-four complaints were out of remit as they were related to valuation matters which have an alternative appeal route via the independent Valuation Tribunal.   

The VOA’s focus on customer experience, improving the way we write to customers, and taking a resolution focused approach has meant that despite a 38% increase in contact during 2022 to 2023 we have been able to reduce response times consistently to 11 days. We are delighted to see the Adjudicator’s recognition of our commitment to customer service and the application of Central Government Complaint Standards.  

The VOA work closely with the Adjudicator’s Office and our relationship is a positive one. We welcome their insight and recommendations for improvements and look forward to continuing our productive working relationship.

link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *