Written evidence submitted by David Hickson |
Every call to the 0845 telephone numbers used
by HMRC (and every other body that uses 0845 numbers) earns subsidy
of its costs at the rate of around 1.7p per minute.
The £5 million HMRC earns in this way will not clear the
public spending deficit, nor would one argue that it is a bad
thing for public bodies to save money. The government should however
only be taking our money through properly applied taxation, not
by undeclared access charges levied on public service users.
When we call these numbers our telephone companies
reflect this cost to them in premium charges on us. (BT alone
is regulated, so that it cannot itself charge for these calls,
it can only recover the premium. BT customers are only paying
the premium. Regulation prevents them from also paying BT, except
through its standard call setup fee.)
The answer to a parliamentary question, Revenue and
Customs: Telephone ServicesWritten Answer11 October
2010, reveals some interesting statistics.
97.1 million calls were made to the 0845 numbers
used by the HMRC network of contact centres in the year to July
2010. 35.6 million of these got no response.
I will make some (conservative) assumptions of the
average durations for the three categories of call and the respective
annual percentages given in the written answer:
to an agent (54.2%)5 minutes.
to hear recorded information (9.1%)2 minutes.
which were never connected (36.7%)1 minute.
Given these reasonable assumptions about call duration
(which I am happy to revise if alternative data is provided) the
annual subsidy earned by HMRC would be as follows:
(97.1 M x ((54.2% x 5) + (9.1% x 2)) x £0.017).
not handling enquiries£605,739 (97.1
M x (36.7% x 1) x £0.017).
Not only is HMRC subsidising its costs at the expense
of those whose call it by over £5 million, HMRC is earning
well over half a million pounds a year by NOT answering the telephone.
By failing to benefit from the low rates and inclusive
packages available for calls to "normal" (01/02/03)
numbers, callers in general are effectively paying far more than
this in premium charges. (As stated above, BT callers are only
paying the premium, either through the call charge or their package
To end this unacceptable rip-off, HMRC and other
public bodies using 0845 numbers, must adopt the 0345 equivalent
numbers (charged as a "normal call" in all cases).
I propose that, for example, 0345 3000 627
be offered for 0845 3000 627. I calculate that this would
save an additional cost to callers of around £27.5 million
a year, which dwarfs the £5.3 million that HMRC is earning.
Smart procurement, in conjunction with other public sector bodies,
along with retention of the 0845 number for those who benefit
from the perverse effect of regulation of BT, would mean that
HMRC would not suffer anything like this in additional cost on
making the alternative available.
This low-cost, quick and simple option is the perfect
solution for the present environment when all budgets are under
pressure and the expense of complex number changes is not worth
considering. Instructions to swap the first "8" for
a "3" in every published number would be easy to communicate.
The equivalent 0345 numbers are all reserved and ready for use
within the term of any existing contract for telephone service.