HM Revenue and Customs has defended its call for tax payers to tweet enquiries to @HMRCcustomers after criticism from MPs.
Stephen Hardwick, director of communications at HM Revenue and Customs, told the BBC that Twitter was a "supplement" to calling helplines at the organisation, which are struggling to cope as the self-assessment deadline approaches.
But Hardwick said people should not tweet any personal data, which was one concern expressed by MPs. Hardwick also apologised for long waiting times on HMRC's phone lines, and promised more staff to cope with self-assessment calls this month.
Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, previously described the HMRC Twitter enquiries plan as "laughable". And Conservative MP Mark Garnier said he couldn't think of any simple tax queries that could be expressed within Twitter's 140 character limit. In addition, shadow Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood said it "beggared belief" that the government would encourage people to "publicly tweet about their tax affairs".
Hardwick told the BBC: "We are serious about the use of Twitter as a supplement to going online and using the telephone. What we don't want people to do is to give us any personal details.”
He added: "It's a very useful social media device to get guidance, to help point people to where they can get information online. The whole point of social media is you answer a question once and hundreds or thousands of people can see the answer, rather than answering the phone to all of those people asking the same question."
HMRC figures show that average waiting times for its contact centre telephone lines reached 10 minutes and 53 seconds in September - more than double the five minutes and 21 seconds recorded at the same point in 2013. In addition, 34.5 percent of calls were cut off, compared with the 20.5 percent the previous year. And the number of calls answered in under two minutes dropped from half to just a quarter.
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