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HMRC must slow down rush to revolutionise

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

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