HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has said that it will close all of its 281 walk-in tax enquiry offices in the UK and replace them with a telephone service and a reduced face-to-face service of “mobile advisers” for people who need extra help with their taxes.
HMRC said the new service would be more efficient but the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which has about 60,000 members at HMRC, said the closure of the offices after will “abandon” vulnerable taxpayers and could cost more than it will save.
The new service, which has been tested in the North East of England will “provide expert advisers to resolve issues on the phone in depth, in one go. It will also provide mobile adviser support at a range of convenient locations for those who need a face-to-face appointment.”
Only a “very small minority” of HMRC’s 40 million customers ever use one of the enquiry centres, and demand halved from five million visitors in 2005-06 to fewer than two million in 2013, HMRC said.
HMRC said the tax enquiry service will save customers around £17m a year in lost time and travel costs, and will save taxpayers over £27m a year.
For those who need a personal appointment, HMRC’s mobile advisers will meet them in different locations ranging from government offices, community buildings and a person’s own home or business, it said.
The PCS said that the office closures will mean more than 2.5 million pensioners, vulnerable workers and tax credit claimants will lose a vital service, and put the jobs of 1,300 low paid, skilled workers at risk, the PCS said.
It will also lead to more taxpayers with the wrong tax code, it added.
The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, part of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, broadly supported the new tax enquiry service but said that the pilot showed difficulties with access to the new service which “must be resolved before it can be called a better service than that which it replaces”.
Meanwhile, HMRC also announced a voluntary exit scheme for 500 more admin assistant grade staff across 70 offices, as part of wider plans to cut a further 10,000 jobs from the department by March 2016, the PCS said.
“HMRC has failed to make the case for closing these offices that provide a lifeline for vulnerable taxpayers,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said. “These closures seriously undermine the government’s claim it wants to ensure people pay their taxes, and it makes no economic sense to continue cutting jobs from the very department that collects the revenue that funds the public services we all rely on.”