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HMRC minimum wage reveal branded ‘scandalous’

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Further criticism has been levied against HMRC after CEO Jim Harra’s revelation on the number of national living wage wage employees at the department.

10th May 2024
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HMRC having to give wage increases to almost a third of its staff to ensure it complies with the minimum wage has been branded as “scandalous”.

Department chief executive Jim Harra – while being grilled by the Treasury Committee last month on the phonelines U-turn - revealed the need for the widespread pay rise.

False impression

While being questioned by Therese Coffey MP, Harra said: “I am this month having to give nearly a third of my staff, including all the helpline advisers and the staff who work on the post teams, a rise so that they can stay with the national living wage.

“That is the rate of pay I am giving those colleagues, which is not a position that I want to be in, but just in case people were left with the false impression that we pay people very high salaries, that is not the case.”

In response to the revelation, PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote believes it is “simply scandalous that the workers who ensure we have the finances to run public services in this country are being paid such a meagre wage”.

Anger and frustration

Speaking to AccountingWEB, she added: “The fact that almost one in three HMRC staff are simply tracking the government’s national living wage has long been a source of anger and frustration for PCS.

“Additionally, workloads are rocketing, with an estimated four million additional income taxpayers expected between 2022–23 and 2028–29, three million more moving to the higher rate of income tax, and customer demand for telephony and postal services rising at 10% per year.

“We welcome the recent report from the Public Accounts Committee, which made it clear that the Treasury and HMRC need to properly resource the department’s customer services. PCS believes that needs to include a decent rate of pay for all HMRC staff.

“This would allow the department to both recruit and retain the skilled workers who provide essential support and advice to individuals and businesses.”

Backlash

Heathcote’s comments aren’t the only backlash Harra and the HMRC have come up against recently, with March’s phonelines plan and subsequent u-turn attracting widespread criticism.

Caroline Miskin, ICAEW senior technical manager of digital taxation, called the original proposals “disappointing”, while Chartered Institute of Taxation president Gary Ashford said that the organisation was “deeply dismayed”.

Harra told the Treasury Committee he “wasn’t surprised that stakeholders didn’t welcome the changes”.

“I was disappointed that, despite the work we’d done the previous year, there was so much concern and doubt about whether [helpline closures] would work and whether we’d be able to support customers effectively during it, because I believe the evidence demonstrates it can,” he said.

He added that the department “did not give enough time” when the original evaluation was published to “actually take our stakeholders through it” and “explain the evidence”.

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By FactChecker
10th May 2024 17:03

Tin-ear strikes again ...

Harra said: “I am this month having to give nearly a third of my staff, including all the helpline advisers and the staff who work on the post teams, a rise so that they can stay with the national living wage.
That is the rate of pay I am giving those colleagues, which is not a position that I want to be in, but just in case people were left with the false impression that we pay people very high salaries, that is not the case.”

In what world did he (or anyone advising him) think that the key message we all needed to hear was that "It's OK - HMRC aren't paying people adequate salaries"?

Of course the real disgrace isn't that they are keeping pennies, if that, ahead of NLW (appalling though that is for an office of central government).

Peanuts and monkeys spring to mind but, in these sensitive times, I'll restrict myself to:
* if you pay a minimum wage then you will tend only to attract people who are desperate for a job (any job) rather than those with any skills/experience or even qualifications relevant to the work;
* if you then don't identify which have the personal attributes essential to a longer-term 'career' then you won't show or tell them anything that might encourage them to stay and progress;
* if in particular you don't offer any suitable training so that they can develop the necessary skills (and some baseline knowledge) then what you've got are chatbots dressed up in human skins.

Harra knows all this ... it is all part of the 'plan' (aka vague hope) that underpins every single policy announcement for the last 10 years, which is now picking up speed (via the dismantling of the bits that work and the lack of repairs to the bits that don't).
It explains why he doesn't see his statement in terms of the affected staff (let alone 'customers') - those staff are perceived as less efficient and more expensive than bots, and thus are the 'problem'.
[Apart of course from the other big problem ... those pesky taxpayers and agents!]

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By Retrocanary
13th May 2024 10:07

Crikey, no wonder the adviser often seem like the can hardly be bothered to help. For minimum wage, why would you be? You could probably earn more restocking Hovis Best-of-Both on the shelves at Tesco. No way is the minimum wage enough given the amount of knowledge you would need to do that job properly, put up with hours of disgruntled people complaining to you on the phone and carry the responsibility for taking action of cases worth thousands in some cases.

Perhaps Harra thinks the staff don't need any knowledge because the wonderful digital computer systems take care of the knowledge and should never be questioned.

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Replying to Retrocanary:
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By djtax
14th May 2024 11:51

You mention 'the amount of knowledge you would need to do that job properly' - even in the top executive board of HMRC (on six figure salaries) there are precious few who have any tax background. No wonder they do not appear to always understand the real world practical implications of their decisions.

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By tax91
13th May 2024 16:06

Is there anyone sensible running HMRC? It is a rhetorical question so no need to answer.

But really, one-third of its staff on minimum wage and Harra feels that is good to share this!
It is time the Treasury looked at who is best placed to run HMRC.

At the start of SA, HMRC pulled out all the stops to ensure its SA system worked and we, as agents, were assisted. No problems getting hold of a competent individual then as the phone system worked. Granted the system was via a US company.
Following SA's introduction, HMRC then started to retire many of its seasoned inspectors as 'SA system would be able to cope'. Retention, training and contact systems have gone backward.

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By Tomazaan
13th May 2024 16:20

I have no idea what staff at HMRC are paid but national living wage only looks at the amount paid each week/ month and not things like pension contributions, sick pay, holiday entitlements etc. My daughter worked in the payroll department of a local college and she said that when such things were included, actual pay was significantly higher. What she found funny was that the staff at the college thought it normal that an employer would pay employer pension contributions of over 20%. I appreciate that that does not help someone find the money to pay current bills and there should be a way of allowing staff to rebalance their remuneration package (for eg more money now and a smaller pension later) to suit their needs.

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