Revenue staff crisis looms

The Inland Revenue could be facing an employment crisis just as it is preparing for corporate self-assessment, as numbers dwindle through resignations and absence due to sickness.

Officials told the Commons Treasury committee last week that resignations had climbed from 968 in 1995/1996 to 1,174 in 1997/1998, while sickness absence rates had increased from an average of 10.8 days of absence per staff member during 1995 to 11.7 during 1997.

Speaking at a Treasury sub-committee hearing last week, chairman Sir Michael Spicer, said: ‘I am concerned about the scale of changes that we are finding, and there is evidence of rising levels of sickness and staff leaving their jobs.’

Revenue deputy chairman Geoffrey Bush rejected suggestions that there was a problem with staff turnover by pointing to the parallel increases in recruitment, and noted they were well below the average for the civil service.

But he said: ‘Sickness rates are a matter of concern and we are hoping to cut them by 20% over the next two years.’

Committee member Liz Blackman said corporate self-assessment and the transfer of working families tax credit and the disabled person’s tax credit to the Revenue in October would also create problems.

She said: ‘It does seem that there will be a problem to recruit and train new staff up to standard in such a short space of time.’

Bush answered that the Revenue is planning to recruit up to 1,000 new staff and the procedure started last week.

Tax experts also fear that the Big Five will poach more staff from the Revenue’s Special Compliance Office to meet an increased demand for tax investigation work, following the introduction of corporate tax self-assessment next month.

Sources close to the Revenue said firms would lure away Revenue tax experts by paying a them a ‘premium’, capitalising on resentment over pay and conditions.

Over the last year, the special compliance office has been hit by a number of high-profile defections, including the departure of Chris Oates, a senior compliance officer in the North West who left to head Ernst & Young’s tax investigation office.

The Revenue has announced it had received 8.2m individual self-assessment forms – 300,000 more than last year – by the 31 January deadline. Some 650,000 taxpayers face a #100 fine.

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