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The taxman will close another of its crucial phone helplines next week – a move it claims will free-up staff to help callers with urgent queries.

For three months from 12 June, HMRC will trial directing self-assessment queries from the helpline to the department’s digital services, including its online guidance, digital assistant and webchat.

It says it will help allow 350 advisers to take urgent calls on other lines and answer customer queries.

However, one accountant says it proves HMRC is ‘not fit for purpose’, while another says it ‘does nothing more than highlight chaos at the tax office’.

HMRC said it was piloting a ‘seasonal model’ because the helpline receives fewer calls over the summer, and around two-thirds of all self-assessment calls can be resolved online.

‘We continually review our services to see how they can best serve the public and we are taking steps to improve them,’ said Angela MacDonald, deputy chief executive and second permanent secretary at HMRC.

‘Our online services, including the HMRC app, are quick and easy to use and have been significantly improved. I urge customers to explore these fully before deciding to wait to speak to us on the phone.’

However, the move will be of little consolation to the thousands of business owners and accountants who have struggled to get through to HMRC in recent months.

Last month, HMRC closed its VAT registration helpline, leaving business owners with a wait of up to 40 days to hear back from the taxman.

The helpline, a subsidiary of the main VAT helpline, was dedicated to helping business owners and accountants with questions about their VAT registration.

The taxman said 85 per cent of the calls were from customers wanting on an update on their applications, and business owners can use HMRC’s online tool instead.

Heather Rogers, founder and owner of Aston Accountancy, and This is Money’s tax columnist said: ‘HMRC are no longer fit for purpose.

‘When taxpayers have a concern regarding their affairs, or in relation to correspondence they have received, especially if they think it’s wrong, they want to speak to a person, not be fobbed off with a digital chatbot.

‘I note HMRC want to transfer advisers to deal with correspondence, which they need to do, as we are waiting for responses to letters that are over 12 months old.

‘However, all this will do is frustrate taxpayers and further add to the mountain of correspondence HMRC need to deal with, as customers turn to paper to try and resolve their issue.’

This week, we revealed one business owner had been waiting over four months to receive his VAT number and has lost a third of his income as a result.

Despite HMRC’s pivot to online, business owners still have to receive confirmation of their VAT application via post, rather than its secure online system.

The decision to close the Self-Assessment helpline too has drawn criticism from accountants.

‘This does nothing more than highlight chaos at the tax office,’ said Seb Maley, chief executive of Qdos, a tax insurance provider for the self-employed.

‘HMRC can dress it up however its wants, but closing the phone lines for self-employed taxpayers is only going to result in problems.

‘We’re in a cost of living crisis, the self-employed are being hit with tax rise after tax rise and instead of increasing the support available, HMRC reduces it. ‘

Chris Etherington, private client tax partner at RSM UK warns the closure of the Self-Assessment helpline would only add to HMRC’s problems once the trial ends on 4 September.

‘HMRC already struggles to deal with the level of phone calls that come through in the winter ahead of the 31 January deadline, and this could make the problem worse.

‘If taxpayers can’t get answers to their queries over the summer months, they may push these back until later in the year and pile more pressure onto the phone lines then.

‘A bleak winter could lie in wait for taxpayers with even longer waiting times.’