Campaigners hit back at the ‘death of the HMRC enquiry centre’by
Those needing help handling their tax affairs could find it restricted thanks to HMRC cutbacks, warned the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG).
HMRC has cut the opening hours in 58 of its 280 tax enquiry centres around the UK, with some now open for just one or two days a week, according to figures from LITRG. A further 117 centres could see their opening hours cut following a consultation currently in progress.
“HMRC has been cutting back on its face to face service for several years now with the result that we are left with ever fewer enquiry centres, open for ever fewer hours,” said Robin Willaimson, technical director of LITRG.
"HMRC's customers across the UK are increasingly using our telephone and online services, rather than visiting our face-to-face enquiry centres, which has led to us reviewing the opening hours of those centres with lower footfall,” an HMRC spokesperson told AccountingWEB.
"Face-to-face inquiries have reduced across the UK by 40% since 2006/07. During 2008, we piloted reduced opening in 10 locations with no adverse impact on customers, and in March 2010 we introduced shorter opening hours at 58 centres across the UK,” she added.
However, LITRG argues that the decline in visitors is not due to a drop in demand for face to face advice, but rather the fact that recent restructuring of the enquiry centres has made such advice much harder to come by.
“Inaccessibility and frequently poor quality of the service now provided by enquiry centres has caused that demand to flow instead to the voluntary sector,” said Williamson.
A further scaling back of the offering is therefore likely to lead to increased demand on the voluntary sector where face to face services continue to be available, he suggested.
"As each centre's opening patterns were reviewed, we consulted with local MPs, as well as other representative groups and organisations that have an interest in our face-to-face advice service. We also consulted with our staff and unions as the review moved forward,” said HMRC’s spokesperson.
"What we are aiming to do is to achieve a better match between enquiry centre opening hours and local customer demand for face-to-face advice from HMRC.
"We also expect this will free up staff time for more efficient deployment on other priority work, such as dealing with customer correspondence or tax returns".
LITRG is calling for HMRC to make the remaining enquiry system more readily accessible (especially for people who have particular needs, such as those with disabilities) and to reinstate a high street presence by working in partnership with other central and local government bodies and the voluntary sector.
It is also prompting HMRC to carry out an urgent review of voluntary sector funding, including charities specifically connected with helping taxpayers handle their affairs, such as TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People.
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