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HMRC officers stage ‘lightning strike’

16th Jan 2012
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Around 20,000 HMRC call centre staff and enquiry officers have held a half-hour walkout this morning over alleged moves towards privatisation - a charge strongly denied by HMRC.

Tax officers are planning to do the same this afternoon at 4.30pm and those on late shifts will leave half an hour prior to their usual 7pm finish. More worryingly, staff are also planning further action on 31 January - the deadline for online Self Assessment returns.

The walkouts are expected to be “hugely disruptive to services”, according to the Public and Commercial Services (PCS), the union representing the workers. A spokesperson told AccountingWEB that the strikes are against the government's hiring of two private firms in trials to run call handling that will “pave the way towards privatisation”.

However, an HMRC spokesperson denied the allegation: “HMRC is not privatising existing HMRC contact centre jobs but we are determined to improve the service we provide to our customers and this means considering a variety of options including drawing on the knowledge and experience of external contact centre operators.”

The year-long trials are being held with two companies - Sitel and Teleperformance - at Lillyhall in Cumbria and Bathgate in West Lothian from February.

The PCS spokesperson continued. “It doesn’t really stack up that there are no plans to privatise any services by the fact that they are doing the trial for a year using them. Why use them if there’s nothing to come as a result of it?”

The union also said that morale is at “rock bottom” when you look at staff surveys over the last couple of years, and levels of engagement are well below average compared to the rest of the civil service. Faith in senior managers, decision-makers and strategic direction, is “absolutely on the floor”, according to the PCS.

The spokesperson also said: “Jobs are being cut and what we’re saying is that instead of losing expertise in the department, what they should be doing is investing in their own staff and training them to do the roles they’ve got.”

HMRC added: “We are doing everything possible to maintain contact centre services to the public and we will continue talking to the unions to address their concerns.”

What do you think of the walkouts? Do you work in a tax return call centre or enquiry office?


Replies (7)

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By justsotax
16th Jan 2012 14:13

Will we notice a drop in the level of service......?

I wonder.....

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By Marion Hayes
16th Jan 2012 19:30


not a good thought really.

We have heard horror stories about the debt collection, do we really want our taxes administered by self interested parties?

I think we should be offering our support - together with a plea to wait till after 31 January

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By Paul Scholes
16th Jan 2012 23:56

Ditto Marion

The public, health and care sectors are littered with the costs & mess of outsourcing & privatising.  The problem is that the powers that be (who don't deserve to be) always assume that commercial organisations will do it better, make a mess of the tendering process and pay a company so much money that there's no incentive to actually do it better.

I am ashamed to say that I have clients who pay me healthy fees from huge sums paid to them as consultants in these sectors and it's money for old, never ending, rope.....(their work not mine).

As the spokesperson said, recruit the right people, pay and motivate them well...starting with the powers that be.

Blimey I sound like others I make fun of on here!

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By frustratedwithhmrc
17th Jan 2012 08:43

Agreed - We need to restore Inland Revenue

I agree with Paul Scholes, the operation of the UK's tax system is too vital to the nation as a whole to be hacked about with through the usual mechanisms of outsourcing. This is not some function like central procurement which might benefit from market dynamics.

We need to restore trained and experienced tax inspectors in local offices. Telephone call centres and a searchable website are all very well, but when we have a tax code which is as complex as the UK's then there is no alternative but to have proper backup.

Inspectors are the last line of defence of the nations finances as they provide advice on technical aspects of the tax code, are the only ones capable of making formal determinations (you'll never get that from a telephone contact centre) and are the heavy boots on the ground when tax fraud and evasion are taking place.

I am a firm supported of a strong fiscal authority, but the direction of HMRC's management is diametrically opposed to that.

On this basis, HMRC staff are right to strike.

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By B Adder
17th Jan 2012 11:47


I too have many clients paid oodles of tax-payer funded beans for making stupid decisions.

Someone somewhere is bound to make a killing on this ;  and it wont be any of us........

as tax advisers we will be given the broom and the mop and that will 'self-serve' us right for being so stupid to fall for it - again !

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By The Black Knight
18th Jan 2012 12:12


If they don't start collecting some of the tax evaded there will be no money to pay for anything.

Strike ? can't say as I have ever noticed..... does seem to be a civil service thing .....wish I could go on they still get paid while on strike ? And what does a strike achieve anyway its not as if HMRC will loose any profit or will even be concerned..even have a culture of not listening.

Instead of collecting tax they are wasting our resources on call centers, which we all know are already useless because of a lack of tax knowledge.

A start would be to get the priorities right.

1, Charge tax correctly and collect tax

2, Identify Evaders and pursue  ...sending a strong message at the same time.

3. Then attend to the frilly bits.


It is quicker to write a letter than use a call center the reply might not be swift but at least you have it in writing. We do not phone unless it is desperate.

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By Red1960
18th Jan 2012 23:30



Does HMRC have any customers?

I thought there was prima facie evidence of coercion in compelling taxpayers to cough up or else!

Presumably if customers of Sainsbury's decide not to shop there and to shop at Waitrose instead Sainsbury's hasn't yet started throwing the offending plebians into prison just yet. 

After all that's exactly what HMRC do after they've sent the heavies round to kick your front door down. I'd just like to be forewarned if retailers are planning to do the same so I can brick up the front door and electrify the garden gate and fence.

Circumstances might be helped if Accounting Web didn't pander to the delusions of Revenue management (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and called taxpayers.... well, taxpayers for the simple reason that is what they are.

Pending privatisation of the entire shambles of course at which point presumably an element of market choice may emerge once the opportunities for ripping off the public even more have increased exponentially. 

The thought of Richard Branson and Rupert Murdoch running competing versions of the Revenue fills me with boundless enthusiasm for the future as much as it does everyone else.

I look forward to a time when tax customers and licensed advisers will spend their lives checking to make sure that their phones and computers haven't been bugged by competing tax collectors and the police bribed to turn a blind eye whilst their possesions are hauled off into the darkness as a result of an administrative error.

Who said things couldn't get worse?

Buttle or Tuttle?




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