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Posted on 15 March 2013 at 11:21 GMT

Revenue and Customs wants to end face-to-face contact

Yet another frontline service under attack

By a PCS member

HMRC plans to run a pilot in the North East of England to remove face-to-face tax services through its enquiry centre network.

Over 350,000 people use this service annually. If the pilot is 'successful', taxpayers will no longer be able to walk into an enquiry centre to receive assistance on their tax issues.

The current service will be replaced by a telephony service and customers will be told to phone a contact centre.

The pilot will also include the shifting of responsibility to the third sector as taxpayers will be referred to organisations such as Tax Aid, Age Concern and Citizens Advice.

It will run from 3 June to 30 September 2013. The 13 offices involved in the pilot will be Alnwick, Bishop Auckland, Bridlington, Hexham, Darlington, Durham, Middlesborough, Morpeth, Newcastle, Scarborough, Stockton, Sunderland and York.

HMRC will run a public consultation exercise from 14 March to 24 May 2013. The pilot will be evaluated over the autumn with the final decision to close enquiry centres to be taken in December 2013.

Job losses

HMRC envisages that the pilot is likely to result in the closure of all 281 enquiry centres across the UK in March 2014, affecting 1,319 staff.

This will seriously impact the service taxpayers receive from HMRC and goes against the ministerial commitment given by the previous government to maintain a presence in each of the locations.

PCS members provide an essential face-to-face service to the most vulnerable members of society as shown by HMRC's own data.

The public consultation document lists face-to-face appointments being required by pensioners; people with visual or hearing disabilities; people whose first language is not English; people unable to afford to use the phone or online service; people with restricted mobility due to a disability, mental health issues, learning difficulties, suffering from emotional upset due to family breakdown, grief or a financial crisis; and those with complex working situations such as a seasonal or migrant worker, or having temporary and/or multiple jobs.

The closures are based on flawed assumptions and misleading research. HMRC points to a decrease in enquiry centre users and argues that face-to-face services are not required in the majority of situations.

However, visitor reductions are a result of opening times being cut to two or three days a week in recent years.

No choice?

One PCS member received a cold call at his home by market researchers on behalf of HMRC. The caller asked whether he would prefer to deal with HMRC by phone, post or online. He was told that preferring to speak to a person face-to-face was not an option.

PCS believes HMRC has already predetermined the outcome of the pilot and consultation, having already told staff that it is highly likely that offices will close.

This represents yet another attack on jobs, terms and conditions of civil servants. Rather than invest in resources to go after the rich and wealthy who dodge 120 billion tax each year, the government is yet again penalising the poor and vulnerable in our communities.

The PCS HMRC GEC is mounting a campaign of opposition using every tool at its disposal to fight this vicious attack.

It will be linking up with pensioners' groups and anti-cuts campaigners. Messages of support can be sent to r&ccampaigns@pcs.org.uk For updates visit www.pcs.org.uk/hmrc

Latest PCS report:

Momentum building against Enquiry Centre closures


This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 15 March 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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