Should HMRC Relocate to India?

Philip Fisher
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This might sound like a rather bizarre question but in view of various recent developments, it may only be a matter of time.

The starting point for this article is a series of recent experiences with First Capital Connect, the local rail service covering journeys between West Hampstead and Farringdon.

For reasons that are not apparent, it is impossible to buy a season ticket more than seven days in advance. If yours that expires on 31 December and you plan a holiday at Christmas (because the office shuts for a week and a half), this means that it is literally impossible to renew your annual ticket at the local station before the prices go up at around twice the rate of inflation, because they will not sell a ticket on Christmas Eve or before and then shut for two days.

In the past, all calls to the train company had been put through to an office somewhere on the outskirts of North London. Last year when this problem arose, the phone was answered by a gentleman in somewhere like Plymouth who had no idea about the practical operation of ticket sales or for that matter the train service.Despite having a year to fix it, the problem continues.

This year, the phone went through to India. If Plymouth was bad, this seems infinitely worse, despite the articulacy of the person in the call centre.

This might all sound frivolous but it gets worse. When you push the information button on a train platform while freezing to death waiting for a non-existent service, your call now goes through to a telephone line. It will not take you long to guess where this telephone is answered.

The individuals involved on two separate occasions had difficulty understanding an English accent and had never heard of either West Hampstead Thameslink or Farringdon. Their ability to explain delays and give an indication of when the next train would arrive was to say the least very limited.

If a train company in the south of England mistakenly believes that it can service its customers adequately from Mumbai or Chennai, then perhaps HMRC is missing a trick.

In a desperate attempt to cut costs even closer to zero, why don't they relocate their call centres to sunnier climes?

Practitioners and customers might protest that people with unintelligible accents who do not fully understand English and know nothing about the UK tax system would not be ideal people to answer calls.

In reality, they will be about as good or as bad as many of their counterparts employed in HMRC call centres up and down the UK today and on the plus side there must be a greater likelihood that calls will actually be answered.

This may not be quite as ridiculous as it sounds, since a number of accountancy practices have shipped their basic tax return completion services and accounts preparation to India already.

In time, it could well be that certain compliance work is carried out in India, queried from India and answered by HMRC in India.

This might sound like a really ridiculous idea but when it happens, just remember where you heard it mooted for the first time.


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