Institutes and PCS warn against HMRC contact centre closures

TAX INSTITUTES have raised concerns over HM Revenue & Customs’ plans to close 281 contact centres as part of cost-saving measures.

The process, to start with the closure of 13 centres in the north-east as part of a consultation on the move, will see HMRC introduce a “flexible” telephone service, while visits can be made to “a range of convenient locations” including taxpayers’ homes and businesses.

While the CIoT and ICAEW are supportive of a more efficient HMRC, both expressed disappointed that the deadline for responses to the consultation is to close to the commencement of the pilot closure, meaning there may not be enough time to incorporate feedback into a new model.

Additionally, the HMRC “must address the individual needs of the most vulnerable in society”, the CIoT said, with concerns over the availability of help and advice to the elderly, disabled, migrants with limited English, those with financial issues and the digitally deprived ongoing.

In a statement, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) announced a demonstration outside HMRC’s offices on Monday 3 June, when it will present the taxman with a petition containing “thousands of signatures”.

“As a result of the closures it is likely that you will only be able to talk to HMRC staff face-to-face in extreme circumstances,” it read. “The government’s plans to shut the network will disproportionately affect minorities and vulnerable groups.”

In all, some 1,300 jobs will be affected, although it is expected many of those will be redeployed within the department. Taxpayers, HMRC said, will save around £12m in time and travel costs, while it claims the service will be £13m cheaper to run than it is currently.

The number of visitors to the enquiry centres has halved from five million in 2005/06 to fewer than two-and-a-half million in 2011/12, the taxman said. As a result, it said, some centres are only open one day per week, while only 16% of visitors genuinely need face-to-face advice.

In addition, the cost for face-to-face appointments is expensive for taxpayers, with the average cost last year hitting £152, while one particular centre saw costs hit £500. In stark contrast, most calls cost around £3.

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