IT'S NOT JUST THE CASE of a single revolution at HMRC at the moment; it's a case of revolutions per minute.
This week's announcement of the closure of all 281 of the department's enquiry centres has been met with a mixture of astonishment and disdain by advisers, variously branding it an early April Fool's joke, "incomprehensible" and "stupid".
Those comments are easy to make, but there is a rationale to what HMRC is doing. It estimates the move over to a telephone- and home visits-based service will save both taxpayers (still bizarrely called ‘customers' by the department) and itself £12m and £13m respectively. Then there's the prohibitively high average £152 cost of appointments at enquiry centres.
That's all very well, but the taxman should slow down and take a step back. Why rush, when the £13m savings could easily be offset through its failure to focus on one major project at a time?
Instead, a slower, more considered process with a consultation followed by a pilot - keeping the existing centres open - strikes me as a smoother transition, with the centres there to pick up any slack from the pilot. The current situation of running the pilot in the North East while closing its centres smacks very much of closing the door after the horse has bolted.
Then there's the upheaval it's experiencing on the technological side; bringing in real-time PAYE and switching its website over to the GOV.uk domain.
In of themselves they are major, but doable, pieces of work. Yet to attempt them all simultaneously and expect them to run smoothly is inviting trouble with no safety net to fall back on.
I hope for Lin Homer's sake that all her revolutions are successful, or she'll need more than a gin and tonic next time she faces the stocks of Margaret Hodge's Public Accounts Committee.
Calum Fuller is the tax correspondent for Accountancy Age and Financial Director
I would like to see how HMRC's claim that each visit to a tax Enquiry Centre cost £152 was calculated. If that figure is correct and 2.5 million taxpayers visited Enquiry centres in 2011-2012 then the total cost of running these offices would be in the region of £380 million per annum. Given that total I would be expecting annual savings far larger than the £13 million that HMRC are predicting.
The sums look even stranger when you consider that the 1300 staff working in these centres are unlikely to be earning much above the average national wage of about £25,000. By my calculation the total cost of staff wages can not be more than £33 million and even adding on Employers NIC and Employers Pension Contributions will not take the amount over £50 million. One then has to ask where the other £330 million is being spent. It seems an awful lot to be paying for some office space, a few PCs, a server, some printers and some telephones.
Posted by: hugh fowler, 15 Mar 2013 | 23:47
HMRC state that each call at an Enquiry Office costs £152, but produces no proof to suppprt this figure.
Do Goblins play in my garden just because I say so ??
Posted by: Matt Boyle, 16 Mar 2013 | 13:51
I had the unfortunate experience of a 10 year battle with HMRC. They lost letters, refused to answer those they didn't lose, ignored commitments they made to me (and my MP), insisted on me phoning them, tried to take me to court three times AND in the end it was resolved with the help of 'nice helpful staff' at the local enquiry centre. So why didn't I phone - because I am profoundly deaf and although I can manage face-to-face with lip reading, hearing aids etc - forget the phone. So what would I do if the enquiry centres are closed.
Posted by: ROGER HANKEY, 18 Mar 2013 | 13:08
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