Taxpayers turn to Twitter for help

/ 5 January 2015

HMRC has asked taxpayers to tweet their queries instead of phoning government helplines as it emerged that waiting times have doubled over the past year. Figures published by HMRC show that callers had to wait 10 minutes and 53 seconds on average for advice in September – more than twice the five minutes 21 seconds during the same month in 2013.

The department has now directed taxpayers with problems to its @HMRCcustomers account on Twitter for help. The move has been derided by politicians, with Mark Garnier, a Conservative MP, saying that he could not think of one query which could be condensed into 140 characters.

HMRC’s director of communications, Stephen Hardwick, said the department was serious about the use of Twitter. “It’s a very useful social media device to get guidance, to help point people to where they can get information online,” he said.

Source: The Independent

Mark Garnier (and the other politicians quoted by The Independent) seem a little too eager to lay into HMRC. For most politicians to brand someone or something else “laughable” reminds us of the time when the pot got a Twitter account and started trolling the kettle.

A lot of people balk at the idea of using Twitter, where the wheat may never outweigh the chaff, and a scheme like @HMRCcustomers will only have limited appeal. But you may be surprised at how popular customer service Twitter accounts have become across a range of industries, so we’d say that it’s definitely worth HMRC giving this a try.

As the tweets quoted in The Independent show, not everyone is in the let’s-lambast-HMRC queue over this one. An open setting like Twitter is obviously unsuitable for personal queries, but the Twitter account makes this clear, and Stephen Hardwick of HMRC has rightly identified how this public forum can in theory be used to mutual advantage: “You answer a question once and hundreds or thousands of people can see the answer, rather than answering the phone to all of those people asking the same question.”

It may take another year or so for @HMRCcustomers to gain the momentum and trust it needs to be fully effective, but we will watch with interest. And if Mark Garnier MP can’t think ‘of one query that could be condensed into the social network’s 140 character limit’ (by the way, spreading a message across multiple tweets is not forbidden), that may say more about the restrictions of his mental capacity than those of HMRC’s social media initiative.