As taxpayers, we finance the operation of every single Government department, so why do those Civil Servants think it is acceptable to charge for telephone access to their services?

It is increasingly evident that most, if not all, Government departments – and Executive Agencies – are switching their contact phone numbers to 0845 numbers. In the current telecoms market, calls to these numbers are likely to cost a lot more than calls to ordinary, “geographic” numbers. Coupled with misleading descriptions of these numbers as “local rate” or “Lo-Call” (a BT brand name) by some, this means the caller is likely to be paying more than they realise.

HMRC is one of the departments using these numbers – despite regular promises to review the practice. Aside from the point already made, that taxpayers already fund the operation of HMRC, this is unfortunate for a couple of further reasons.

1. Many of the people who are forced to try and contact HMRC helplines for help with their tax affairs are likely to be on low incomes. Having to pay inflated rates for the call (or calls) to that helpline is a big cost. The problem is exaggerated when you consider that research shows many low income families don’t have a landline, relying instead on a mobile phone. Calls to 0845 numbers are (typically) even more expensive from a mobile network.

2. HMRC has an appalling record when it comes to keeping callers hanging on the phone. The menu system is labyrinthine and at each level, you are likely to have to listen to a recorded message giving you lots of useless (especially the second, third …. time you hear it) information and details of the web address. Thus, it can take several minutes before your call is even ready to be answered – then you have to wait for it to actually be answered. And you are paying for all of this at inflated rates.

It is time that this practice stopped.