‘More time needed’ to assess impact of HMRC enquiry centre closures

MORE TIME is required to assess the impact of HM Revenue & Customs’ pilot programme of enquiry centre closures in the north-east of England before it is rolled out nationally, according to the CIoT’s Low Income Tax Reform Group (LITRG).

LITRG chairman Anthony Thomas warned that HMRC needs to be “clear that the change does not disadvantage vulnerable taxpayers”.

“We are not convinced that a five month trial, followed by a two month evaluation period, is sufficient time to be sure that this will not be the case,” he said.

In March, the taxman said it intended to close down all 281 enquiry centres, which give face-to-face advice to almost two-and-a-half million taxpayers per year.

In its place, a “flexible” telephone service and provision for visits to “a range of convenient locations” is to be introduced.

The move will affect 1,300 jobs, 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 13 closures in the north east are to be completed by 31 October, with national closures set to commence from February 2014 provided the results are positive.

The CIoT, along with the ICAEW, is supportive of a more efficient HMRC, but 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.

“We encourage HMRC to analyse their call handling strategy to ensure that taxpayers who may previously have visited an enquiry centre can have quick and easy access to the new service. In addition, helpline advisers must be trained to the highest degree not only in soft skills but also on the technical side to reduce ‘bouncing around’ of calls and back office referrals,” Thomas said.

A spokesperson for HMRC said: “We are working closely with partners in the pilot area and nationally to get this service right for our customers. Through their feedback, and our own tests, we will continue to adapt the new service over the remaining two months of the pilot. No decision will be taken to extend this service until we are sure it is the right one for our customers who need extra help.”

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