Getting through to HMRC on the phone

HMRC: Welcome to HM Revenue and Customs. To direct your call to the right place, I’d like to know why you’re calling today. So tell me, in a few words, what’s the reason for your call?
ME: A general VAT enquiry
HMRC: A VAT enquiry – is that right? Yes or no.
Me: Yes.
HMRC: And what is about VAT you’re calling about? You can say things like ‘I want to import a car’, or ‘Why have I received a VAT surcharge notice?’, or even ‘I’ve lost my password for online VAT.’ So go ahead – in a few words, what’s the reason for your call?
Me: I want to know how to charge VAT to the City of XYZ [it has no VAT number].
HMRC: About your payment options, is that right? Yes or no.
Me: No.
HMRC: Sorry, you can say things like ‘I want to import a car’, or ‘Why have I received a VAT surcharge notice?’, or even ‘I’ve lost my password for online VAT.’ So go ahead, tell me, what’s the reason for your call?
Me: How to charge VAT to a customer in Germany.
HMRC: A question about charging VAT outside of the UK – is that right? Yes or no.
Me: Yes.
HMRC: OK. And are you calling as the VAT-registered customer, an agent, an employee of a VAT-registered business, or something else?
Me: The VAT-registered customer. [their computer never understands this although they just offered it as an option]
HMRC: Sorry, which of the following are you calling as? Say: customer, agent, employee, or something else.
Me: Customer.
HMRC: Thank you. You can find lots of useful information about the VAT implications on both the importing and exporting of goods and services within the EU and beyond, as well as information on reclaiming VAT from other EU countries on our website, hmrc.gov.uk/vatinternational. Now, if you would still like to speak to one of our advisers, please hold on a moment and I’ll transfer you. By the way, for quality and security this call might be recorded. [music]

The computer woman’s voice is exaggeratedly helpful and friendly.

The real person I eventually get through to is very helpful, but I have been known to swear during the above dialogue and to be bad-tempered afterwards.

7 thoughts on “Getting through to HMRC on the phone

  1. Make sure you, using a suitable dictaphone etc., record the telcon as well, even though the Inland Reveue a.k.a. HMRC cannot be held to promises made by its or their clerks (cf. the UK contract case of Re Selectmove). Doesn’t it sometimes make you, Margaret, wish you had never left Germany?

  2. Thanks, Victor, very amusing.
    Adrian, I have had quite positive experience of HMRC. Above all, they have advised me on how to handle clients in Germany who have no VAT ID (once a charity, once a big city). You can rest assured that German tax offices will not be able to handle the situation where you subcontract to a UK translator who is below the threshold.
    Are you registered for VAT in Austria? and you are glad to have a change of tax authority?
    My main gripe is with this totally mindless phone loop. Mind you, Germany is going that way. But why this cajoling voice that, every time it doesn’t understand me, trots out the three things I might like to say? Other companies have an irritating voice too, and are long, but the individual parts of the ‘dialogue’ are nowhere more irritating, in my experience, that at HMRC.

  3. Yes, some of these voice systems manage to make all your bad manners come to the surface. I tried to contact a human being at German IKEA a few months ago (completely impossible, in case you wanted to know), and their voice menu was so totally useless that at some stage I shouted “Ach, leck mich doch am Arsch!” To which the voice replied “Entschuldigung, ich habe Sie leider nicht verstanden …”.
    Made my day, at least some compensation!

  4. Yes, I have been very rude to HMRC’s voice but this time I decided to record it. These things are all annoying, but some are incredibly annoying. I wonder what IKEA’s is like in the UK. I am not going to try it.

  5. Congrats on your postiive experience(s) with the UK HMRC. My local VAT office back in West London was in fact very accommodating and helpful, but merciless over penalties and interest ‘automatically’ payable, over my work-crazed late GB VAT registration during the HM Customs & Excise & Inland Revenue split-organisation days. My experience with my concurrent Austrian Turnover Tax a.k.a. VAT registration – pace your shrewd equivalence – has been more positive with a direct line/ Durchwahl to the educated and engaging clerks in Graz who tend to be very obliging and forthcoming, pre-eminently on mention of the British Royal family and concomitant stories and scandals.

  6. I must admit I had no problems in Fürth, but reading German mailing lists for years it was clear that quite a number of tax advisers and even tax offices were very ignorant. On the other hand, this problem of using a UK translator who is not VAT-registered while the German client is, is something we don’t experience much in reverse. Both my cases have been anything other than Kleinverdiener.

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