The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union is holding a strike ballot among HMRC staff over plans to privatise tax credits call centres, reports PublicTechnology.net.
The two-week ballot started on 28 October and centres on plans to award contracts this month to two private sector suppliers to provide about 100 staff each. The contract staff will be to handle tax credit queries at two HMRC call centres for 12 months, starting in January.
Although the threatened industrial action arises from the tax credits wing of HMRC, any walkouts and working to rule that result from the ballot will take place during the busy Self Assessment season. The call centre action will also run alongside the 30 November day of action over pension reforms called by the PCS and other public sector unions.
HMRC’s call-centre approach to dealing with public queries on tax matters has been a long-running source of frustration for tax advisers. In a poll on the main service issues affecting agents, “difficulty contacting HMRC by phone” was cited by 62.8% of AccountingWEB members as one of their top complaints, second only to postal delays (85.3%)
In 2008-09 the National Audit Office reported that only 57% of the 103m call attempts to HMRC’s Customer Contact Directorate were answered, down from 71% the previous year. The customer service industry benchmark is over 90%. Efforts to improve call management saw the number of calls answered go up to 73% in 2009-10, and HMRC assured the NAO it was on target to answer 90% by March 2012.
However, to assuage agent complaints, last year HMRC launched an agent phone line on 0845 366 7855 to get their queries answered (0845 300 3943 for tax credit queries).