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HMRC to close walk-in tax enquiry centres

12th Feb 2014
Freelance journalist
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HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has said that it will close all of its 281 walk-in tax enquiry offices in the UK and replace them with a telephone service and a reduced face-to-face service of "mobile advisers" for people who need extra help with their taxes. 

HMRC said the new service would be more efficient but the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which has about 60,000 members at HMRC, said the closure of the offices after will "abandon" vulnerable taxpayers and could cost more than it will save.

The new service, which has been tested in the North East of England will "provide expert advisers to resolve issues on the phone in depth, in one go. It will also provide mobile adviser support at a range of convenient locations for those who need a face-to-face appointment."

Only a "very small minority" of HMRC’s 40 million customers ever use one of the enquiry centres, and demand halved from five million visitors in 2005-06 to fewer than two million in 2013, HMRC said.

HMRC said the tax enquiry service will save customers around £17m a year in lost time and travel costs, and will save taxpayers over £27m a year.

For those who need a personal appointment, HMRC’s mobile advisers will meet them in different locations ranging from government offices, community buildings and a person’s own home or business, it said.

The PCS said that the office closures will mean more than 2.5 million pensioners, vulnerable workers and tax credit claimants will lose a vital service, and put the jobs of 1,300 low paid, skilled workers at risk, the PCS said.

It will also lead to more taxpayers with the wrong tax code, it added.

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, part of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, broadly supported the new tax enquiry service but said that the pilot showed difficulties with access to the new service which "must be resolved before it can be called a better service than that which it replaces". 

Meanwhile, HMRC also announced a voluntary exit scheme for 500 more admin assistant grade staff across 70 offices, as part of wider plans to cut a further 10,000 jobs from the department by March 2016, the PCS said.

"HMRC has failed to make the case for closing these offices that provide a lifeline for vulnerable taxpayers," PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said. "These closures seriously undermine the government's claim it wants to ensure people pay their taxes, and it makes no economic sense to continue cutting jobs from the very department that collects the revenue that funds the public services we all rely on."

Replies (17)

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By leon0001
12th Feb 2014 14:42


Have they announced any dates?

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By justsotax
12th Feb 2014 16:02

will lead to more wrong tax codes...

is that possible!?

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By Jekyll and Hyde
12th Feb 2014 20:41

mobile advisors
Is that going to be us accountants! As part of the new tax agent strategy?

Clearly not be feeling like I am going to be an external unpaid mobile advisor for HMRC.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
13th Feb 2014 08:53


Our "walk in" center consists of a phone on the wall where you can phone the helpline....


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By shilley
13th Feb 2014 17:03

The network of 281 Enquiry Centres will close to the public on 30 June 2014.

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By AndyC555
14th Feb 2014 10:58

Enquiry centres way back when......

Back in the early 1990s I had just passed my technical exams and been promoted to FT Inspector and transferred to a new office.  Some time in my first few weeks the District Inspector and his deputy were both out of the office and I was 'in charge' of the district for the day.

Some elderly chap came into the enquiry centre and collapsed.  An ambulance was called, defibrillators employed but all to no avail and he died right there on the floor. Meantime I was having to deal with irate taxpayers (as they were in the days before they became 'customers') trying to barge their way into the closed enquiry centre insisting on seeing someone. Tragedy turned to farce when the ambulance crew had to sit the deceased person up on the stretcher so they could get him in the lift (we were on the third floor).

All in all it was a vey stressful day so I went down the pub when the ambulance crew left (as was the tradition in those days). 

As my DI said the next day "I've been in charge of the District for 12 years and haven't lost a taxpayer, you're in charge for one day and you start killing them off"....    


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By monksview
14th Feb 2014 11:33

Another nail in the coffin. 

Another nail in the coffin.  No business would be able to treat its 'customers' like this.

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By ianmcmonagle
14th Feb 2014 11:34

It's a disgrace

How many of you responded to the 'Consultation Document' on the subject last year?

Despite having read it and responded with my view that it was a disgrace that HMRC should pull the plug on this vital public service, I knew that it was still going ahead despite a "pilot exercise" in the North East. The writing was on the wall long before this announcement.

I will be interested to hear how many of HMRCs so-called "customers" will be visited by this new army of "mobile advisers".

Without knowing the numbers (yet), I bet that the current numbers of experienced tax personnel that are being paid off will be replaced by a fraction of untrained call-centre staff, where is will take you about half an hour to speak to someone after being told to press this number and that number. I also wager that getting a 'mobile adviser' to come and see you will not be as easy as HMRC make out.

I will be watching with interest and asking HMRC to produce stats in the future to tell us how many of their vital "customers" have had personal meetings with a 'mobile adviser' in the future.

There will also be a huge number of people who would have gone in to declare their self-employment or looking for advice to register that will not sit through the 15-minute phonecall listening to their press-button options to speak to someone. There will a huge amount of tax lost through this nonsensical cost-cutting exercise.

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By Johnandrew
14th Feb 2014 12:22

Perverse thinking?

So, HMRC now accept that closing local offices and setting up 'enquiry centres' comprising phone booths cause a substantial reduction in the numbers of taxpayers dropping in for a chat.  Of course it does!  What's the point of travelling miles to an office when you can't speak to anyone face to face but have to ring up a helpline and then speak to someone who may - or may not - be able to assist.  I find this kind of logic perverse and cynical.

HMRC seem to persist in following trends set by banks some 10 years ago when they started to close branches but fail to recognise that this is, for some banks at least, now being reversed.

HMRC + 'customer' service = complete failure in my view.


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By Chris Floyd
14th Feb 2014 12:39

Less demand?

HMRC have 'managed' the figures over the last few years to show a decline in 'demand'.

The truth is that the demand is still there but the resources aren't. Taxpayers are channelled to the internet or telephone when they would much rather sit with a knowledge adviser and fully resolve their issues.

I feel sorry for the HMRC officers, many of whom have many years of experience, who will be left jobless.

I would also like to know why, if the pilot excuse was such a success, was it necessary for HMRC to re-open one of the closed offices to help specific taxpayers?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
By mackthefork
14th Feb 2014 13:39

Agreed, 'managed' is the right word

They basically started to pretend that these services did not exist, allocating 0845 numbers for the offices, that go through to the call centres.  I personally thought they had closed a while ago, this sucks for those involved, but i am not surprised, it all seems to be very calculated and cynical.



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By the_Poacher
15th Feb 2014 08:46

Cost savings
You are all too rational. Fact of the matter is that HMRC has had large cuts to salaries budgets and has been told to collect more tax. To balance these opposing pressures they have cut back heavily on non compliance staff. So more digital, fewer education and support services for business. You get the services you pay for.

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By ianmcmonagle
17th Feb 2014 09:49

Of course the stats will show less demand

HMRC have argued for some time that there has been a reduction in demand for the personal touch and face-to-face meetings, but whilst the internet and phone-lines will have reduced demand, HMRC made it as difficult as possible for anyone to get an appointment to see an adviser.

Let me expand a bit...

In my local office, in Glasgow, if you turned up, on spec, without an appointment, you could not see an adviser face-to-face, even if there was one available. You were given a number to call to arrange an appointment, but it couldn't be within 48 hours, so you had to go away and come back another day (even though you were already there at the tax office and there were advisers and rooms free).

If you asked for an appointment, you were diverted to the internet or call centre. You could only get an appointment as an extreme last resort. You had to fully justify why you wanted to meet an adviser.

At our local Working Together meeting, when HMRC announced to us that the system had changed so the public had to call to make an appointment, we asked what the phone number was. We were advised that no number had been allocated to that system. So effectively the rules were that you had to phone for an appointment, but there was no number that you could call. I would suggest that this would certainly reduce the number of appointments made. A 0845 telephone number was later allocated by HMRC.

HMRC staff were under pressure to justify why they had made appointments. For each appointment they had to give a valid reason why it was necessary. The powers above had an agenda to stop all personal callers, where possible.

In many offices, HMRC reduced the opening hours or the number of days that the office was opened, then said there had been a reduction in the number of people coming in compared to previous years.

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By mikefleming3028
17th Feb 2014 17:20

Tax Farming


Was quite the thing in the days of the Roman Empire and it looks as though we are well on the way to adopting the same system in the UK. Its only a matter of time before the Treasury put the whole matter of tax assessment and collection out to tender to the private sector as all they care about is revenues of £470 Billion per annum with costs of collection  cut to  the bone. The action of the closure of the remaining  Tax Enquiry Centre’s was a foregone conclusion and any attempt at consultation  on the subject was only going to end in one way and anyone involved in the process who thought otherwise was delusional. When is the profession going to wake up and smell the roses? HMRC does not regard us as their friends or even their equals and the   sooner we accept that and respond accordingly the better in my book. The legal system in this country is based on advocacy so why should the Tax system be any different?

Any answers on the back of an envelope please.


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By ianmcmonagle
18th Feb 2014 08:25

Delusional, moi?

Hi Mike.

I have to put my hand up and say that I was one of the delusional souls that made a detailed written response to the Consultation Document, strongly objecting to the closures - but well aware that I was wasting my time as the decision to close all of the offices was made long before the Consultation Document was issued.

HMRC closed the offices in the North East and planned many other closures, then issued the Con Doc.

Would logic not say it should be other way round? Do your market research first, and then react to it?

It was a foregone conclusion, but wrapped up in cotton wool and rhetoric to make it sound like it was an additional and better service.

Those responsible at HMRC should hang their heads in shame.

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By mikefleming3028
18th Feb 2014 12:59

To whose benefit


History teaches us a lot and there is nothing new under the sun, so :-

“Lucius Cassius ille quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat identidem in causis quaerere solebat 'cui bono' fuisset.

The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, 'To whose benefit?”

Well in this case the answer is obvious and it is not the taxpayer/customer.

Should not every "consultation" be started with this question?

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Replying to WhiteRose:
By leon0001
19th Feb 2014 10:27


My Latin is pretty rusty but should't that be "most honest and wise" rather than "very honest and wise"?

On a more general note, the offices will close whether it is right or not. We now have a system where, unless a taxpayer is in a specified group of activities, of high net worth or believed to be a criminal, there is no way of discussing his income tax affairs with a competent person. Letters are dealt with by a different office each time and there is no point in requesting a meeting to resolve issues. - there is now no one at HMRC whose job description includes meeting taxpayers or agents. This discriminates against the ordinary taxpayer.

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