26 June, 2015

HMRC and telephone targets

I listened with interest to the article on the news this morning about HMRC failing to answer more than a quarter of phone calls last year. I have to do the dreaded self-assessment tax return each year and so have, on a number of occasions, called up HMRC. Luckily, I have always managed to get through quickly and have had my questions answered -- although I haven't generally been ringing at peak times, e.g. just before the deadline for self-assessment.

What interested me most in the article, though, is that HMRC has set itself a target to answer 80 per cent of calls in the future. This just struck me as bizarre. Surely the target should be to answer 100 per cent of calls!

Part of my day job involves responding to (often very complex) queries that come in relating to academic research and ethics. Admittedly, this is on a tiny scale compared to the queries that HMRC receives. However, we manage these queries with two part-time, overworked members of staff and we answer (note: do answer, not aim to answer) one hundred per cent of those queries. I can't imagine how our employer would react if we said we were setting ourselves the target of replying to 80 per cent of queries in the future!

But back to HMRC. What are the remaining 20 per cent of people whose calls aren't answered meant to do? Not pay their tax bills? I can't quite see that one flying with HMRC...

06 June, 2015

The changing meaning of the verb 'to revert'

I do a lot of work for the publishing industry. My husband works in the IT industry. Between us, we have plenty of experience working with Indian colleagues. And the one thing that we both really notice is the phenomenon of Indian English,

There are certain phrases that are used regularly in Indian English but are not correct, at least traditionally, in British English. One of our favourites is the word 'revert'. In Indian English the phrase: 'Please revert to me' is commonplace. This is used to mean 'please refer to me', as in 'if you have any questions, please refer to me'. Or, in Indian English, 'if you have any questions, please revert to me'. Although we understand perfectly well what is meant by the phrase in Indian English, it is a non-starter in British English. In British English, 'please revert to me' would mean 'please turn back into me' -- which makes no sense at all!

What's interesting, though, is that this phrase now appears to be entering British English and, increasingly, is being used between speakers of British English. Only the other day, I received an email from a journalist saying '...I will revert to you or to Kate, depending on your instructions'.

The phrase 'to revert' in the sense of 'to refer' already appears in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, albeit under the category of Indian English. My guess is that it won't be long before it appears in other more pedestrian dictionaries of British English as well.