HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is to allocate £45m to improve customer service in its telephone call handling operation, as statistics showed that millions of taxpayers give up while waiting for their turn on the enquiry lines.

Around 3,000 additional staff will be hired, on top of about 2,000 staff who are being temporarily redeployed ahead of one of the peak months for taxpayer calls. 

Figures for 2014-15 reveal that HMRC failed to answer 27% of more than 60m calls it received last year, with some months falling even further short of its 80% target. In some months as many as one in five customers heard a busy tone and could not join a phone queue.

Calls tend to peak in January as the self assessment deadline approaches, and July when tax credits are renewed.

Lin Homer, HMRC chief executive, accepted that standards had not been good enough. She stated: “Despite our best efforts, our call performance hasn’t been up to scratch and we apologise to all those customers who have struggled to get through to us.

“Good customer service is an absolute priority for HMRC. We set ourselves the target to answer 80% of calls, to provide a more consistent level of service across the year and to reduce peaks and troughs in service levels between busy and quieter times.

“While we were successful in tackling the busiest peaks for self assessment and tax credits customers, we didn’t meet our call handling target overall and we didn’t provide the consistent service to which we aspired."

Ms Homer added: “We have also invested in new telephone equipment, which lets us switch calls to many more offices, not just take them in contact centres, so more of our staff can help customers at the busiest times.

“Our new online services are also giving customers new and better ways to deal with HMRC and I urge all customers who can go online to do so. For services like tax credits, it’s quick, simple and can be done anywhere any time, including from a smartphone.”

So far this year, 265,000 tax credits customers have already renewed online, against 97,000 at the same point last year. Satisfaction rates with the online service stand at around 80%.