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HMRC's response to the Adjudicator's Office 2020 annual report

HM Revenue and Customs' response to the Adjudicator's Office Annual Report published in June 2020.

The Adjudicator’s Office annual report was published in June 2020. The report sets out several recommendations based on insight from investigated complaints, thematic reports and real-time tracking conducted in 2019 to 2020. This is the department’s – HMRC and its executive agency, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) - published response to the report.

It includes an update on commitments made in the department’s response to the 2019 annual report as well as how the department intends to address recommendations from the 2020 report.

Working together (engagement)

In the department’s response to the Adjudicator’s 2019 annual report it was noted that the introduction of the Service Level Agreement and the creation of the Complaints Insight Board provided firm foundations for working collaboratively to promote the importance of learning from complaints to improve customer experience.

The department is pleased that the Adjudicator’s 2020 report recognises that since then the department has stepped up visibility of its commitment to learning from customer feedback and improving customer service; and that engagement between the department and the Adjudicator’s Office has ‘greatly improved’.

To build on this good progress HMRC has continued a range of activity – reviewing its complaints performance measures, organising presentations to senior leaders and arranging complaints insight workshops – to maximise the visibility of, and engagement in, learning from complaints.

The Adjudicator’s membership of the Customer Experience Committee, and representation of the Adjudicator’s feedback at HMRC’s senior monitoring of performance continues to ensure coherence between customer complaints, wider customer experience and HMRC’s strategic objectives.

Learning from complaints

In both the 2019 and 2020 annual reports the Adjudicator emphasised the importance of using insight to improve complaints handling and bring about transformative change. The 2020 annual report recognised the progress the department has made in this area over the past year.

Much of this can be attributed to the impact of the Complaints Insight Board which has:

(a) focused on addressing historic issues identified from feedback provided by the Adjudicator

(b) developed a more forward-looking work programme that uses insight from complaints to bring about real change to customer service practice, policy and culture; and monitors the impact of those changes on the customer experience.

Progress can also be attributed to the development of a programme of complaints insight work which builds on the monthly insight reports and bulletins that continue to be disseminated to staff working on complaints, and includes:

(a) analysis of key issues - such as Covid-19 related complaints, the premature escalation of complaints and redress - to identify specific problems and actions to address them and improve the customer experience

(b) the implementation of Complaints Insight Events for members of the complaints community across HMRC, VOA and the Adjudicator’s Office to be updated on findings from research on complaints and co-create solutions

Complaints handling

The 2020 annual report notes that HMRC is setting a strategic path for changing its relationship with customers to one that is increasingly customer-centred. In the department’s response to the 2019 report it was noted that HMRC had implemented customer training programmes for staff, modifications to guidance and correspondence, and actions to assist customers who need extra support.

Furthermore, the response noted that HMRC’s Customer Services Group was also piloting a new operating model to streamline existing processes and ensure complaints are identified and resolved at the first opportunity.

The pilot was completed in spring 2020 and some of the principles of the new operating model were used to handle complaints resulting from the government’s Covid-19 schemes. HMRC is currently in the process of evaluating the approach which will inform decisions on wider implementation.

In addition, HMRC’s Customer Compliance Group has now developed a set of Compliance Professional Standards to strengthen professionalism and enhance trust in HMRC.

The Compliance Professional Standards were developed by colleagues from across HMRC. Bringing together previous ‘best practice’ policies, they have increased emphasis on the customer experience, focusing on being aware of the customer’s situation, being responsive, communicating effectively, treating customers fairly and getting things right.

These standards were launched internally this summer.

HMRC will be working with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) and the cross-government complaints forum, which includes members of the Adjudicator’s Office, to develop an over-arching Complaints Standards Framework in the coming months.

This framework will be one of the delivery vehicles of HMRC’s new Charter, which was published on the 5 November 2020 following the outcome of the public consultation which closed in August 2020. The new Charter sets higher expectations of performance during interactions with members of the public and staff will be trained to deliver it.

Specific issues related to complaints

In January 2020 the Complaints Insight Board conducted a stocktake of outstanding recommendations from the Adjudicator and has since addressed ten of the eleven identified. This includes recommendations related to the NHS Widening Access Training Scheme, Code of Practice 26, High Income Child Benefit Charge, and collection of historic debt.

The board is continuing work to address the remaining recommendations whilst balancing prioritisation with the development and implementation of multiple schemes related to Covid-19 since March. The board will monitor the impact of the actions implemented to address these recommendations to ensure that they have had the desired effect.

In her 2020 annual report the Adjudicator highlighted findings from 4 thematic reports produced by her office over the past year. These were on Tax Credits/Universal Credit, Escalation of Complaints, Policy Formulation and Application, and Departmental Engagement.

Subsequently, HMRC has thoroughly investigated the Adjudicator’s findings from the report on Tax Credits/Universal Credit, has made changes to address the causes of complaints on this topic and is finalising the process for compensating customers who have been affected.

HMRC has also completed a deep dive into complaints that are prematurely escalated and is implementing the identified actions, such as improving sign-posting for customers.

HMRC has disseminated the findings from the reports on ‘Policy Formulation and Application’ and ‘Departmental Engagement’ across its business to encourage learning from complaints and is in the process of establishing an action plan for addressing the Adjudicator’s recommendations from these reports.


HMRC reports monthly on its complaints performance.

The Adjudicator noted that the introduction of a digital channel for escalating complaints to the Adjudicator, alongside the new secure email service for her office, was proving popular with customers. In the 6 months following the launch of the channel, 50% of all complaints received by the Adjudicator came through the digital channel.

Work is currently underway to establish a new digital complaints management system across both the Adjudicator’s Office and HMRC.

The annual report highlighted that the number of HMRC complaints escalated to the Adjudicator had decreased in 2019 to 2020 compared to 2018 to 2019. Over 98% of HMRC complaints are resolved internally.

The proportion of complaints partially upheld by the Adjudicator increased and work is underway to ensure appropriate decisions are made as early as possible within HMRC’s own internal complaints processes to address this.

For VOA, the total number of complaints escalated to the Adjudicator remained similar to the previous year, at 52 in 2019 to 2020 compared to 54 in 2018 to 2019. VOA continues to work closely with HMRC on learning from and improving complaint handling and attend the Complaints Insight Board to discuss feedback from the Adjudicator on improvements to improve customer experience.


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