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HMRC plans enquiry centre closures

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14th Mar 2013
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HMRC has brought forward plans to close around 281 enquiry centres by the end of 2014.

The possibility of closing offices where taxpayers can go to sort out their tax problems in person was announced as part of a consultation on supporting customers who need extra help, but also fits into the department’s wider drive to reduce administration costs.

Fourteen enquiry centres were temporarily closed on the day of the announcement, and all the others shut to the public from 1pm, presumably to explain the planned changes to staff.

The proposals are based on research from the department's behavioural evidence & insight team and cost assessments that suggested improvements could be made to support taxpayers who need extra help. In place of the existing network of physical enquiry centres, HMRC plans to introduce a “more accessible” service tailored to customers’ needs, explained Treasury minister David Gauke.

“These plans include a specialist team of telephone advisers and a team of mobile, face-to-face advisers able to meet with customers wherever they live,” the minister wrote.

The consultation document elaborated: “Enquiry Centres are resource-intensive, and closing them will allow us to offer extra help to more of those who need it and to do so in a more cost-effective way.

“Based on our current plans we expect to help unlock £47m annual estate savings by vacating and rationalising office space that is currently part-occupied by… enquiry centres, as well as saving around £13.5m in staff costs per year.”

Since 2005/6, the number of people visiting HMRC enquiry centres halved from more than 5m to 2.5m in 2011/12. The average cost of dealing with individual visits at these centres rose to £152 in 2011/12, up from £106 in 2009/10, HMRC said. The Hexham enquiry centre dealt with just 601 appointments last year, at an average cost of £185.

“By way of comparison, it costs an average of £3 per phone call handled,” the study found, adding that 84% of enquiry centre visitors in 2012 didn’t actually need an appointment to resolve their queries.

“We have concluded that our enquiry centre network does not always reach the small minority of our customers who need extra help,” it concluded.

Decline in visits was already evident in 2010, when HMRC cut back opening hours for 58 of its enquiry centres. At the time, the Low Incomes Taxation Group argued that the decline wasn't due to a drop in demand, but because taxpayers were finding it harder to identify where to go for help following extensive restructuring at the department.

Ahead of today's announcement, HMRC has been working with voluntary organisations to ensure that the withdrawal of physical support centres does not adversely affect vulnerable people.

HMRC call centres will have dedicated teams with experienced staff trained in emphathetic techniques to deal one-to-one with vulnerable tax payers; call centre staff will be able pass on such calls to the specialists, who will help identify and solve their tax problems.

In place of the physical offices, the new teams mobile teams will host tax “surgeries” in places like citizens advice bureaux, libraries and job centres. Where necessary, they will also visit vulnerable taxpayers at home. Where someone needs, but cannot afford independent advice the HMRC team will direct them to appropriate voluntary organisations like Tax Aid.

According to the consultation document impact assessment, taxpayers will save up to £12m a year from reduced travel costs under the new arrangement.

While arriving as something as a surprise, the mobile advice concept was suggested four years ago by AccountingWEB's tax editor Rebecca Benneyworth. “We always had the mobile library, and latterly, the mobile greengrocer, so why not HMRC? It would be a lot cheaper than renting offices, and with adequate notice those unable to travel to the tax office could be visited near their homes,” she wrote.

This new approach will be tested in a pilot scheme in the North East between June and October. “Once we have fully evaluated the impact of the new service we are planning to introduce the new service for customers who need extra help in 2014.” HMRC added that no final decision would be made until it has fully assessed the findings of the consultation exercise and pilot scheme.

The proposal was criticised by the civil service union PCS, which has called a 24-hour strike on Wednesday (Budget day) against job cuts, office closures and deteriorating terms and conditions.

The union said closing local offices would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers and complained that the research used to justify the plans was flawed.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Closing all face to face tax offices would break the link between people in communities and an essential public service they rely on.

"If, as we fear, flawed research has been used to justify these closure plans then ministers must put an immediate stop to them."

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Replies (38)

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By AddsUP2Me
14th Mar 2013 15:36

"where they live"

Does that mean if someone has been unable to get through on the telephone they will pop round and have a face to face fishing visit?
Or they will book a room at an existing HMRC building and invite the customer in to resolve if the customer can get through the phone system and convince the operative that a face to face is advantageous?
 

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By david5541
14th Mar 2013 16:57

libraries and supermarkets!!

so our police will be opening up in supermarkets and libraries as will the tax office!!!!!!!!!!!

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By downfieldpay
14th Mar 2013 17:12

Home visits - crazy idea!

No way are HMRC coming round for coffee and a cozy chat - they will have to book a meeting room at some public location - and pay for it!

 

 

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By Ian McTernan CTA
15th Mar 2013 00:34

saving 13m...

and costing many millions.

This has got to be an early April fool's joke.

I'm guessing the people who came up with this policy never visited an enquiry centre or dealt with taxpayers.

Most struggle to understand when it is explained face to face.  Most don't want to speak over the phone about it, they want to chat about it, which is why they didn't just phone the existing helpline in the first place.

Home visits?  You have got to be kidding me- stand by for the elderly and infirm to face yet another bunch of scammers pretending to be from HMRC to gain entry into their homes.

 

And this: HMRC call centres will have dedicated teams with experienced staff trained in emphathetic techniques to deal one-to-one with vulnerable tax payers;

Really? that would make a really pleasant change from the usually hassled, overworked and uninterested service we currently get where letters go missing, phone calls are never logged - and that's even if you can get through rather than experience the 'all of our operators are busy at the moment please call back later- followed by being cut off'.

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By AddsUP2Me
15th Mar 2013 01:40

Worrying.

Ian McTernan CTA wrote:

Home visits?  You have got to be kidding me- stand by for the elderly and infirm to face yet another bunch of scammers pretending to be from HMRC to gain entry into their homes.

Oh dear. Hadn't thought of that.

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Replying to halblackburn:
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By GW
15th Mar 2013 09:44

Not all bad?

I can see the point in saving costs but,

- How much of the reduction in the numbers visiting the enquiry centres is due to the closure of offices, reduction in hours and the need for appointments, having closed the local office the nearest one is now 16 miles away.

- Why do they try and sell this as a new service "Making it easier for HMRC customers to deal with their taxes"

As they only aim to answer 90% of incoming phonecalls, I expect the good news is more work will come our way.

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By monksview
15th Mar 2013 09:44

closing offices

And next they'll make it law that they have all our bank account details and that will be it, BB personified, no more control over our lives, our money.  Blah, blah, blah.  Whatever they say is all pointless.  They don't listen to reason, they often don't listen at all, cos 'customers' can't get through on their seriously under-manned telephone service.  Which is often staffed by newbies, or people who have been so ground down by their own system that they no longer give a...

Truly, you start to wonder what is the point.

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
15th Mar 2013 12:41

Closing offices
I see the first 12 offices to close as part of the trial consultation are all based in the North East. HMRC is one of the biggest employers in the region. It's always good to know we are first in the queue when it comes to job losses. Wel done George Osbourne.

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By nrhealey
15th Mar 2013 12:46

Outsourcing

Perhaps HMRC should consider outsourcing this service to the accountancy profession.

I'm sure we could all reduce the average cost of answering queiries from £152 each and increase the quality of service to the end user !

We might even mop up some of the HMRC staff fallout.

Job done- no brainer !

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Replying to SteveHa:
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By CathyB
15th Mar 2013 14:30

Closure of enquiry centres

Mmm.  I may be wrong, but I assume you have never actually worked in an HMRC Enqury Office.  I have and believe you me it makes dealing with your worst client look a doddle.  Staff in enquiry centres spend and awful long time dealing with each individual who comes in and it's not slways because they are incompetent.  Let's just say I wouldn't like to be doing a timesheet for this sort of work.

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By M Shapland
15th Mar 2013 12:46

closure of enquiry centres

This is utter madness, another ill thoughts, ill conceived idea. why don't they get rid of all the pen pushers who come up with all these ridiculous policy changes? They are the ones who are superfluous...

 

Call centres are renowned for:-

1. their slowness in answering the phone and who pays for the phone call cost? not HMRC so maybe the tax payer might save a £ or too travelling to the local tax office but how much will it cost him to be kept waiting for half hour or more before someone deigned to answer and then

2. half their staff have not been trained correctly and don't know what they are talking about.

 

Visit at Home:

HMRC officer's visiting vulnerable taxpayers at home - NO WAY. If they want to save costs, why not merge them with Job Centre Plus? That might prove usefull if a taxpayer who has lost his job (due to cut backs at HMRC perhaps???) needs to claim a refund HMRC would be on hand to help them fill in the correct forms... or give advice on registering as self-employed etc..

 

Whatever next????

 

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Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
15th Mar 2013 13:01

Knock Knock

"a team of mobile, face-to-face advisers able to meet with customers wherever they live"

Will these visits start with those chilling words "we're from the government and we're here to help"?

 

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Replying to tom123:
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By Roland St Clere-Smithe
18th Mar 2013 12:07

There is a word missing at he end

Which is "ourselves"

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By sallycox
15th Mar 2013 13:08

Closure of Enquiry Centres

I echo all that has been said before.

What does LITRG have to say about this? They deal mostly with the vulnerable taxpayers this is clearly aimed at.

Those more 'affluent' taxpayers seek advice from qualified tax advisers who seem to know a great deal more than the untrained idiots who usually man HMRC phone lines - when you can get through, that is.

Nice one, George - an expert in how to alienate as many voters as possible in one fell swoop.

 

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By leon0001
15th Mar 2013 14:20

Which offices?

Is there a list?

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By John Wheeley
15th Mar 2013 15:11

Outsourcing

Perhaps the jobs will go to India ?

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By Nick Graves
15th Mar 2013 15:28

Comment from Tax Aid?

I wonder what is their take on having thousands of HMRC's "customers" (and costs) fobbed-off onto them?

 

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By johnjenkins
15th Mar 2013 16:29

First Post Offices in supermarkets

now HMRC. Perhaps the government should rent a space in Debenhams (or another well known store - don't want to seem favouristic) next to Principals or Miss selfish. Could even rent a table in the cafe. Tea and bikkies while you wait.

It's all becoming a complete farce. Brian Rix would have had a field day.

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By vinylnobbynobbs
15th Mar 2013 16:34

Closure of Enquiry Centres

When I heard this I could not believe it.  What ever happened to Civil Servants serving?  "Customer" Service?  It is like Greggs becoming an online retailer.

When is someone in Government going to realise that the civil service is not a business but is there to serve the needs of the country and not to make a profit

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By Donald6000
15th Mar 2013 17:22

Not being able to do the job

I am disgusted at this latest move on behalf of HMRC. When I worked there in the 1980's I became a sort of "roving reporter", able to do all the things that the others could not, for instance, repayments claims, local interviews for taxpayers with distant offices, simplified paye schemes, so on and so forth. I always remember the pleasure that people got from being able to meet face to face with me in the local office and get their problems immediately sorted out.

HMRC is not worth the name now and we have no progressed any since I had an allocation of 3000 PAYE taxpayers and knew a lot of them quite well. Now they are pushed to answer the phone to one or two taxpayers. A complete disgrace and of course we know that it's coming from the top because those buffoons don't believe in the top people paying their taxes, so have abandoned the top layer of HMRC professionalism, along with all the other grades.

United Kingdom - fear of doing things properly, when once we used to be the envy of the world.

 

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
15th Mar 2013 18:00

For once on the side of HMRC (but employees only)...

For once accountingweb members are in support of HMRC Enquiry Centre employees and we are not the only ones - this is from the Public and Commercial Services Union website>>>

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/revenue_and_customs_group/index.cfm

The text reads as follows>>>

Members’ anger

In York and Newcastle – where staff were told their offices are closing in June – members grilled management for over two hours about how vulnerable customers will be affected by this decision. Plans are now underway to get reps from the North East together in a dial in meeting next to develop a strategy going forward.

Members in Liverpool were furious to learn that they will not be able to apply for alternative posts until their office closes, placing them in an extremely vulnerable position. Members in North Wales, Harrow, Ipswich and Gloucester have fed in their views. We are anticipating further reports in the next few hours.

AND

HMRC has made it clear that if this pilot is a success then it will move to close the entire enquiry centre network (281 offices) by May 2014. The planned enquiry centre closures are in Alnwick, Bishop Auckland, Bridlington, Hexham, Darlington, Durham, Middlesborough, Morpeth, Newcastle, Scarborough, Stockton, Sunderland and York from 3 June. 

 

 

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By jline199
15th Mar 2013 19:09

Change of phone number?

I wonder whether as part of this "progress" HMRC is going to change its telephone numbers from 0845 to 03? The point is that many phone companies charge more for calls to 0845 numbers than they do for calls to 01, 02 or 03 numbers, 

If people are going to be forced to phone, rather than visit, the least HMRC can do is not to ensure they pay over-the-odds for that call.

Provision of a 0800 number would be even better, but maybe that is just too much to ask.

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Replying to Shaun Rider:
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
16th Mar 2013 12:40

Yes they are going to change the phone numbers...

... this was confirmed in the last Public Accounts Committe meeting - see my comment under the article 'Treasury comes under fire' :

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/article/treasury-comes-under-fire-pac/537548 

 

My comment states>>>

Its the showing of the Public Accounts committee that met on 28 Jan. There's quite a lot of discussion about RTI and how HMRC call centres are going to cope. The Chairman Margaret Hodge concludes that they wont (are we surprised?).

Plus - just watch Lin Homer (Chief Executive & Permanent Secretary) and Ruth Owen (Director General Personal TAX HMRC) squirm when Ms Hodge has a go at them about 0845 numbers! Priceless!

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=12413&st=15:25:50

 

... after Margeret Hodge has a right moan about the cost of ringing HMRC (apparently her constituents had complained to her) Lin Homer confirmed that the 0845 number will be going.

I wondered at the time how they would be able to finance a freephone number - now we know - close the visit centres!

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By taxbakbristol
16th Mar 2013 04:22

Consultation with Accountants and Tax Advisers???

 I cannot recall any prior consultation between the accounting & taxation professions.I am not an ACA . ACCA or CIOT ....where are they in this debacle?

What is the point in having an Institute if they do not protest against theses hair brained schemes!

What of the Liason Committee etc etc

Its just getting worse and worse.....

Will the last HMRC employee please remember to turn the lights off ...another economy measure!

 

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By danbrown
16th Mar 2013 10:15

Give me back my Inland Revenue, you.....

"...We know the current system does not meet the needs of the people it was designed to serve, so we plan to introduce a new service that is more accessible and tailored for customers who need it..."

It barely meets the needs of anyone, matey.

 

The deluded "blue-sky thinking" genius who composed the Consultation document probably thinks that they are fixing something, rather than compounding a series of really badly executed reforms by adding this latest and greatest one.

 

"Customers." They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means...

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By monksview
18th Mar 2013 08:16

Doesn't matter what they change the bloody phone nos to.  There will still be hundreds of thousands on unanswered calls, and a large proportion of those that answered will have the wrong advice given out.  Disatisfaction all round.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
18th Mar 2013 08:46

Fine effort HMRC!

Until this drivel, it seemed inconceivable to me that I could be on the same page as the PCSU on any issue.  But on this one I am with the militant Taff and his cohorts!

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By leon0001
18th Mar 2013 11:58

What, close all of them?

Words fail me.

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By DMGbus
18th Mar 2013 13:40

Close them before Universal Credits come live

A few years ago local tax offices were swamped by aggrieved Tax Credits claimants who were in receipt of notices of arrears.    This was most inconvenient for HMRC for "customers" to turn up and ask to speak face to face with someone from HMRC.

 

So, just maybe, we have some forward thinking by HMRC here - close public enquiry offices before Universal Credit is introduced, as no doubt HMRC don't want any repeat of what once happened with Tax Credits.

 

Personally with regard to "replacing tax enquiry centres with telephone help"  in general I would wish that the Taxpayers Charter (if it still exists) be updated and include something along the lines of customer standards for speed of answerring telephone calls with a charter promise that if excessive telephone delays are incurred then a face to face meeting would be guaranteed with a certain timescale as a remedy.

 

 

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By johnjenkins
18th Mar 2013 14:03

Perhaps we

should get the lib dems and labour to get the tax payers charter underpinned legally.

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By ianmcmonagle
25th Mar 2013 17:01

HMRC Enquiry Centre closures

I've only just started to read the HMRC spin publication on this - with a view to submitting my opinion for the so-called "consultation".

Already from the first few paragraphs I see that it's being hailed as being for the benefit of HMRC "customers". It states that it is an "improvement" to the current system of being able to make an appointment and go in to the tax office and speak to someone. 

The consultation paper also goes on to say that this "extra help" is being made available to customers "in a way that suits them".

If HMRC want to "improve" the current system and enhance the service that they provide to the public - being the point that they appear to be trying to achieve, why don't they retain the current service and add to it, rather that take it away and call that an "improvement".

Surely no one is fooled by the spin and rhetoric of this announcement.

HMRC or The Treasury should at least be honest with the public, the professions and the voluntary organisations - all of whom will need to take on this workload - and say that this is simply a cost-cutting exercise. That they intend to close the doors on the public for good and have them all do their taxes online and that the current excellent public service provision is being withdrawn, Forget the consultation. Forget the 'pilot exercise'. This is about saving money with no regard for the needs of their so-called "customers".

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By monksview
25th Mar 2013 17:06

Has this been brought in by that politician that has just been slammed for lying to parliament and the public about the Borders Agency figures?  If we thought HMRC was bad already, wait til she really gets her hands on it.

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By johnjenkins
25th Mar 2013 17:08

That has now become the problem

Government now believe their own spin so much that they actually think we are taken in by this stuff.

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By johnjenkins
25th Mar 2013 17:26

Yes Lin is the

"extra help" promised.

She will be womanning the phones day and night till we are all sorted. Then             wait for it             she will be promoted to             wait for it                     the NHS and all before the next GE.

I see merecats being replaced by little Lins.

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By ianmcmonagle
26th Mar 2013 12:35

Why don't they open their Enquiry Centres for longer?

If 2.5million people came through their Enquiry Centre doors last year, then there's clearly a need for this.

HMRC state that visting numbers have halved but in a 6-year period, but no wonder. I counted that only 29 of the 281 Enquiry Centres are actually opened 5 days a week.

You can hardly be counted as a visitor if the doors are locked and there's no-one there to see you.

The Consultation Document cites Hexham as an example of only 261 visitors in the year. What it doesn't say though is that the Hexham office is only open on a Friday morning for 4 hours.

If the service was available all day, 5 days a week, the numbers would be much higher.

The consultation document also cited that 94% of the visiting "customers" were shown to phone and had their matter resolved over the phone - presumably from within the tax office. That to me means at least 94% customer satisfaction and the provision of a public service that should be enhanced, not totally removed. 

It seems to me that a "customer" goes in, gets greeted, gets shown to a phone and has the comfort of knowing that if there's a problem that there's a back-up. Those nice tax folk will be there to help. Customer gets the problem resolved and leaves a happy person.

That's customer satisfaction. It's a win-win situation. The individual doesn't pay too much or little tax. They don't disappear into the black economy and they get the "help" that HMRC seem to wish to give - according to their consultation document.

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Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
27th Mar 2013 09:16

Put the horse before the cart (for a change!)

Perhaps instead of pushing 'customers' onto cheaper channels and faffing about with mobile advisers and the like, how about actually reducing the demand on the enquiry services? For instance (and this is just a few small nuggets):

- pre-population of tax returns with data already held

- agents being able to see tax coding notices online for all clients (not just current SA cases)

- taxpayer/agent access to CIS deduction data

- when a company is struck off, have the CT people actually tell someone about it (e.g. their colleagues in PAYE, VAT, the Debt Management Office, etc.)

- taxpayer/agent access to PAYE and VAT accounts (in line with SA)

Any one of these would I know probably take a decade for HMRC to implement, but come on Lin, the sooner you start....

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By monksview
27th Mar 2013 17:11

to should_be_working don't forget who you are talking about here.  She may in due course say she is instigating improvements, then only go half hog at it, then lie about the fantastic results, and how happy we all are about it.

I never used to be this cynical.  Dealing with HMRC is bad for one's health.

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By taxbakbristol
29th Mar 2013 07:16

Health

No doubt about it...working with HMRC is bad for your health.

Maybe Lin the Spin will change the logo and have the words on all letters same as cigarettes !

WARNING - OPENING THIS COMMUNICATION IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH !

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