Changes to HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) helpline services which would have seen the self-assessment helpline shut for six months are being halted.

HMRC announced changes to its helpline services earlier this week in a bid to encourage people to go online first, following trials over the last year.

But it said it is now halting its plans in response to the feedback while it engages with its stakeholders about how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs – including small businesses – are met as HMRC shifts more people to online self-service in the longer term.

The changes to the self-assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines announced by HMRC will all be halted while it engages with stakeholders, with phone lines remaining open between April and September.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said: “Making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity.

“Our helpline and webchat advisers will always be there for those taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable, digitally excluded or have complex affairs.

“However, the pace of this change needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online.

“We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.”

The planned helpline closures had face criticism from many.

Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “This news will be greeted with dismay by thousands of small businesses. If you don’t have a dedicated tax and finance expert on hand, as many small businesses and self-employed people don’t, tax queries can rapidly turn into huge headaches.

“We all know that chatbots and exhortations to go to a particular website for information are in many cases no substitute for talking to a real person, especially for complex or time-pressured issues.”

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) described the changes as “misguided”.

CIOT president Gary Ashford said they were “deeply dismayed”.