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PCS members strike over HMRC contact centre closures

HUNDREDS of members of the Public and Commerical Services Union have taken part in strikes held in protest over pay, jobs, conditions and the closure of all 281 HM Revenue & Customs contact centres.

Protests are being held nationwide all week, with a 95% turnout of members at HMRC’s offices in Washington, Tyne & Wear, during protests across Yorkshire and the north east. There are reports that two post vans were turned away from the site. Rallies were also held in Newcastle, Leeds and Bradford. Members from the Department of Work and Pensions also took part in strike activity.

The demonstrations, which are expected to continue throughout the week nationwide, follow a protest held outside HMRC head offices in Whitehall on Friday. A petition containing “thousands of signatures” was handed by masked PCS members registering discontent over plans to divest the contact centres. The masks were worn to denote the “faceless” organisation they feel HMRC will become without the centres.

The closures were originally announced in March as part of cost-saving measures, with 13 offices shutting their doors as part of an initial pilot of scheme in the north east. In place of the enquiry centres, HMRC plans to introduce a “flexible” telephone service, while visits can be made to “a range of convenient locations” including taxpayers’ homes and businesses.

HMRC estimates the new service will save ‘customers’ £12m a year in travel costs, and will be £13m cheaper to run than it is currently. The PCS disputes that assessment, suggesting the new system will cost more than it will save and disproportionately disadvantage pensioners, people on low incomes, migrant workers and the disabled.

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

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These workers are the backbone of our country’s public services and do not deserve to be treated with contempt by ministers who are refusing to even talk to us about the cuts they are imposing.

“Collecting even a fraction of the money we lose through tax dodging by wealthy individuals and organisations would make it impossible for the government to claim it has no choice but to cut billions from the welfare budget for sick, disabled and unemployed people.”

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