HMRC will close its self-assessment helpline for almost six months each year and force customers to use its online services instead.

Taxpayers will not be able to call the tax office from April 8 until September 30, HMRC has confirmed. This means that people who would previously have spoken to an advisor about their queries now have to self-serve online.

The phone line is closed during the same period every year, it said.

HMRC said it was taking this step because “around two thirds of calls” to its helpline are “routine or simple queries that can be resolved online using our digital services, tools and guidance”.

Previous attempts to close the self-assessment line allowed it to support more customers and would not impact taxpayers’ ability to file or pay tax returns on time, it said.

The announcement comes weeks after Parliament’s cross-party spending watchdog said HMRC’s customer service levels were at an “all-time low”.

How will your inquiries be handled? Is there still a way to reach someone by phone and will there be a special hotline for MPs?

Here’s what you need to know:

From April 8th, what happens if you have an HMRC query?

Whilst previously you could speak to someone on HMRC’s self-assessment, PAYE and VAT services, you will now be directed to self-service via HMRC’s online services.

The VAT Helpline remains open every month five days before the deadline for submitting the VAT return. However, outside of this time you must use the online services.

HMRC says those who call the lines will hear a recorded message tailored to the reason for their call.

If you called from a cell phone, you will receive an SMS that will take you directly to the information you need before your call is interrupted.

HMRC says customers are provided with “clear information… so they know what to do and how to resolve their query online and how to access additional support if they need it”.

The online consultation includes written instructions, recorded webinars, YouTube videos and a digital assistant, adding that “these can answer most customer questions”.

Between October and March the helpline will be open to deal with priority calls and customers with queries “that can be quickly and easily resolved online” will be directed to HMRC’s online services.

All other helplines will continue to operate as before, says HMRC.

What “additional support” is offered and who receives it?

HMRC says it is providing “additional resources” to its webchat and online services helpdesk (OSH).

Webchat allows customers whose concerns are not addressed online to exchange messages with an advisor, while OHS is intended for “customers who do not have access to online services or require additional support for other health or personal reasons.”

This includes callers with a disability, mental illness or a personal situation that requires them to receive specialist assistance.

HMRC says such customers should stay on the line when requesting support and will be provided with the health and safety contact number via voice message once they have gone through the “query routing”.

You can read more about the specific protocols that apply to disabled people, the elderly and other potentially affected groups Here.

Are there any other exceptions?

No – but a hotline that can be used by MPs will remain unaffected, HMRC confirmed to Sky News, meaning calls from officers will still be answered.

The hotline, operated by a specialist department called Public Department 1 (PD1), allows MPs to address their personal tax questions.

An HMRC spokesman said there were “no plans to restrict the PD1 helpline”, adding: “PD1 is a dedicated helpline for those who require a higher level of protection because of their identity or job. It has nothing to do with people’s wealth.”

“PD1 records are processed separately so only a small number of employees can access them. This helpline typically has seven people responsible for answering calls.”

“No evidence that the public is ready for monumental change”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “HMRC has previously outlined its plans to ensure they invest in their technology to ensure they reach as many customers as possible.”

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought HMRC’s customer service record was good, he said: “Of course he thinks HMRC’s customer service record is good, but he recognizes there is always more to do, and recognizes some of the challenges that HMRC has faced.”

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Harriett Baldwin, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said: “It is a huge shame that HMRC has now decided that it is time to close virtually all means of people contacting them by telephone for large parts of the year be able to record.”

“I’ll say it again: These are well-meaning people who are just trying to do their taxes right.”

“We have heard time and time again that every effort is being made to get people to solve problems online.

“The committee welcomes efforts to make the tax system more efficient, but HMRC has not yet shown that the department or the public are prepared to make such a huge change in the way they resolve tax issues.”

“This should not be forced on taxpayers until there is evidence that people know how to pay their taxes on HMRC’s incredibly complex website.”

What HMRC says about it

Angela MacDonald, second permanent secretary and deputy chief executive of HMRC, said: “Online services have changed our lives and often provide a better service for tax administration – they are faster, easier and always available.”

“Changing our services to encourage customers to self-serve online wherever possible will allow our helpline advisors to focus support where it is needed most – helping people with complex tax issues and people who are vulnerable and need additional support.”

“We need to maximize every pound of taxpayer money. By using online self-service we can support more customers and improve our customer service without spending additional public money.”

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