Restructure shakes up customer service and compliance teams at HMRC

In a major shakeup, HMRC has announced plans to restructure the organisation to improve customer service and focus on client needs, marking a move away from the siloed approach of the current tax department as it creates three core groups to deal with customers, strategy and compliance

The reorganisation has been communicated to key stakeholders in a bid to reassure the profession about the imminent rollout of Making Tax Digital, which will rely increasingly on an online, digital approach to an increasingly complex tax environment.

This is the key element of HMRC’s Building our Future programme. HMRC staff were informed of the changes on 6 September.

The bulk of the restructure will take effect in October with the full reorganisation slated for a December 2016 completion date.

The core of the new structure will be customer strategy and tax design, with newly structured customer compliance and customer services teams, all supported by the existing corporate services and transformation teams.

Effectively the current four HMRC directorates will be streamlined into three distinct divisions:

From 1 October, the existing four directorates will be reorganised into three groups:

  1. a new customer strategy and tax design group, which brings together customer strategy, tax policy, process design and tax assurance teams, led by Jim Harra, director general business tax;
  2. an expanded customer service group, which includes the main operational teams, led by Ruth Owen, currently director general customer services;
  3. a customer compliance group, which will tackle non-compliance and enforcement for all customer groups, including large businesses, led by Jennie Granger, current director general enforcement and compliance.

Central to the customer strategy and tax design group will be the inclusion of representatives from customer services reorganised. This group will include personal tax customer product and process staff, who will take up their new roles in October, while specialist personal tax teams with expertise in policy, technical, shares and valuation, will come on board by December 2016. The fourth directorate, headed up by Nick Lodge, covering general benefits and credits will be assimilated into the other three core groups.

Business tax customer and strategy experts will also join this central overarching department, while some business tax specialists will be transferred to the revamped customer services operation.

In a briefing note to key stakeholders, HMRC director of corporate communications Stephen Hardwick said: ‘As we have been evolving what we do, and where we do it, as part of this transformation, we have also kept our organisational structure under review, to ensure that it is fit for the future and that it supports our new digital and collaborative ways of working.

‘As a result, we have now decided to make some further changes to how we are structured. From October, we will be reorganising the directorates in our four existing lines of business into three new groups.’

An HMRC spokesperson told CCH Daily: ‘The way HMRC works is changing for the better. We are more determined than ever to deliver an outstanding service to our customers while clamping down on the minority of tax dodgers who try to cheat the system.

‘This announcement is about the next step in driving those commitments forward, modernising how we work.’

There will also be no redundancies as a result of this restructure.

Following criticism of HMRC’s customer service, fragmented approach to agents and customers across the organisation, and poor telephone answering capabilities, improvements to the structure of the customer-facing team will be welcomed by tax advisers and tax managers across the profession.

There are also concerns about HMRC's ability to roll out Making Tax Digital within the timeframe for completion by 2019, particularly with current resourcing and the complexity of the programme.

John Cullinane, tax policy director at the CIOT, said: ‘We hope that this is HMRC taking a more integrated approach to its policy decisions and achieving its policy goals. We look forward to seeing if the changes lead to a greater role for HMRC in policy development.

 ‘It would be interesting to know to what extent this is a result of the two major challenges facing HMRC at the moment - Making Tax Digital and Brexit.’

Responding to the changes to the internal structure of HMRC Jonathan Riley, head of tax at Grant Thornton UK LLP said: ‘Whilst we await detail, it is encouraging that HMRC seems to be focusing on strategy and design, suggesting HMRC may have greater connectivity with policy formulation than has been the case in recent years. 

‘This move combined with the Office of Tax Simplification being placed on a statutory basis suggests we may be moving into an era where we consider designing a tax regime that that works with and for business, allowing them to unlock growth and help create a vibrant economy.

‘In addition, the recent improvements in the previously poor customer service is great news for the individual hard pressed tax payers, and their agents, especially as they get to grips with Making Tax Digital.’

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Let's hope HMRC finally does something it has singularly failed to do since, effectively, the merger - that is to take it's institutional fingers out of its ears and listen to people who have to deal with HMRC at the "other end". It's all well and good HMRC driving on and through with its own changes, even including internal stakeholders in that strategic discussion, but we are left with the output and, frankly, HMRC regularly fail to live up to any reasonable standard.

Here's hoping.........!

With one simple tweak - making agent dedicated lines available for all taxes, not just self-assessment - the 'customer experience' would be enhanced and HMRC workload reduced as HMRC would spend less time dealing with agents (who can explain the issues and understand the responses) than they do when clients have to phone them directly.

Communicating in the Digital Age : strange to find as I joined in this recent HMRC webinar on the subject that the IT team in HMRC weren't aware of attachment size limit on emails to HMRC which recently resulted in Paper submissions failure to be matched with email clearance request and unnecessary delays as a result. If HMRC want to drive correspondence through digital medium it needs to be fit for purpose. Currently it's too cumbersome and trying to track down where a VAT clearance is being handled, by which officer and when to expect a response just isn't working.