April 19 2014 Latest news:
, business editor
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Nearly 300 walk-in tax offices around the UK are to close, HM Revenue & Customs confirmed today, in a move which unions warned will put 1,300 jobs at risk.
Plans to close the network of 281 enquiry centres, which includes more than 20 locations around the East of England, first emerged last year.
And HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) today confirmed that the offices are to be axed and be replaced by a new phone-based service, supported by pre-arranged face-to-face interviews when necessary.
Among the centres affected are those in Bury St Edmunds, Chelmsford, Clacton-on-Sea, Colchester, East Dereham, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, King’s Lynn, Norwich, Sudbury and Witham.
HMRC said that only a small minority of its 40million customers now used the centres, with demand having halved from 5m visitors in 2005-06 to fewer than 2m in 2013.
Some centres were now open just one day a week and only one in 10 people required a face-to-face appointment, according to an HMRC spokesman.
HMRC said there would be no compulsory redundancies. Staff affected could opt to work in the new service, take up other jobs within the organisation or apply for voluntary redundancy.
It added that, following a successful seven-month trial in the North East of England, the new service would provide expert advisers to resolve issues on the phone or at a range of “convenient locations”.
However, the Public and Commercial Services union said the closures, which will take effect from May, will mean that 2.5m pensioners, vulnerable workers and tax credit claimants will lose a vital service.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “HMRC has failed to make the case for closing these offices that provide a lifeline for vulnerable taxpayers.
“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.”
However, Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general for personal tax, said: “HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers when they need it. The pilot showed that this is a valuable service for those who cannot get the help they need elsewhere.
“Our inquiry centres offer a great service to those who can reach them, but they are spread unevenly across the UK, the number of people using them continues to fall, and our research shows that the majority of customers who do use them don’t actually need to. The new service will enable us to tailor help in a way that works better and is more affordable.
“Our specialised phone service will help customers whose affairs can be resolved over the telephone, and our face-to-face help will be available to those who need it, visiting them at a place convenient to them.”
The new service would save customers around £17m a year in lost time and travel costs, and save taxpayers more than £27m a year, HMRC added.