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HMRC to privatise post handling

23rd Apr 2014
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HMRC is planning to privatise its postal handling arrangements, which it says will improve both the speed of which letters are answered and its phone service.

Following a three-month trial in Cardiff and Portsmouth, the Revenue issued an internal briefing notifying postal centre staff of the impending changes.

The department has signed a contract with EDM Group, which will scan 15m pieces of incoming post received by HMRC's personal tax and estates and support services (ESS).

Work is underway on an implementation plan for the privatisation, with the bulk of personal tax post expected to be outsourced by March 2015.

The deal will save the Revenue from having to to sort and move post around different locations. Instead EDM will scan incoming post and provide the department with a digital version within 48 hours of receipt.

According HMRC’s briefing note, pursing this route for post will improve phone service as advisers being able to view post on-screen and confirm where they’re dealing with it.

“Being able to move post around instantly will help our flexible working too, enabling us to have teams working on phones or post according to demand. In future, our phone advisors may be able to answer post while the customer is on the phone,” the briefing read.

The PCS has slammed the idea of privatising this service and said it received the news with “very short advance notice”.

In addition, the union questioned why HMRC chose an outsourcer rather than keeping it in-house.

HMRC argued that the external supplier offered the best “value for money” option after conducing a comparison exercise.

There may be job cuts taking effect in post centres over 2014-15, HMRC confirmed, Less post will mean fewer postal centres, it said. Managers expected to know what impact the deal will have forpersonal tax post centre workers by June.

“There are further critical questions that HMRC will have to answer about the tendering process and specifically why an in-house alternative has been ruled out,” the union said in a statement.

“It is highly unusual for a tender to be offered and a contract awarded with so little engagement having happened with the recognised trade union. It is important that this situation is rectified as a matter of urgency.” 


Replies (32)

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By carnmores
23rd Apr 2014 21:01

theres no doubt a change is needed
BUT is privatising the way forward i think not

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
23rd Apr 2014 20:50

Probably I think it is right

Hopefully the outsourcer will operate outside the silly rules system without jobsworthy staff and just focus on getting the job done.

It's a bit like Gove in teaching - it's hard to think shaking things up can make it any worse than the current HMRC performance in this area.

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By chicken farmer
24th Apr 2014 08:00

What price confidentiality?

When, back in the last century, I was in the Revenue, we had to sign the official secrets act. Now we seem to have an outside organistion having access to all our tax correspondence.

I also don't see how these proposals are going to speed up the responses to taxpayers' letters, its seemingly only going to get the text of the taxpayer's letter onto the screen of an officer "within 48 hours" - there is no guarantee that they are going to deal with it any quicker than they do at present.

Still, I suppose this is progress and someone must feel that its better that the bad old days when post arrived on the officer's desk by about 10.00 on the morning it was received. 

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Replying to A4TUser:
By the_Poacher
24th Apr 2014 20:40

Leak it?
It's always been relatively hard to hack confidential correspondence but once it is digitised and stored by a private sector organisation it will be much easier to hack. Here's hoping correspondence between MPs etc and HMRC gets hacked and posted online.

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Replying to A4TUser:
By Rosalinda Taylor
25th Apr 2014 13:41


I totally agree with chicken farmer.


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Time for change
By Time for change
24th Apr 2014 08:06

One thing you can be sure of is

the care, pride and exceptional professionalism, of the former Great British workforce, is a thing of the past.

Whether we like it or not, local councils employ similar arrangements for; building services, road and refuse maintenance and, in not many years hence, I see the NHS and other state agencies working along similar lines.

The concern of course, is whether these private sector operators, really can deliver, each and every time. Remember the 2012 Olympics and G4S.

It's a bit like the "Ratners" story from years ago - s**t sticks.

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By mikefleming3028
24th Apr 2014 09:36

Is this a bridge to far?

Improvements in speed and service have got little or nothing to do with these proposals. The centralisation of post handling which happened recently had this end game written all over it as its always about costs coming as it does from an administration that knows the cost of everything and the  value of nothing. The more important issues here are what other functions of HMRC  will the Treasury seek to hive off to the private sector? I have written in the past on this subject and the most obvious functions are Collection and Compliance. They have already started on the former and I would bet the farm on the fact that there are several discussion documents circulating in "Government circles" considering the cost savings that could be gained by such a move. On this issue there is nothing new under the sun and I would recommend consideration of the  system used In the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago, then it was called "Tax Farming" and it was very efficient in so much that the right to assess and collect tax was auctioned off every 5 years or so to the highest bidder, the Empire got a huge slug of up front money and the highest bidder got the right to keep what  it collected. Corruption was also rife. Now any student of history (or the Bible) will have some idea as to what the general feelings of the then population was towards tax collectors.

In my experience the majority of HMRC grass roots staff are loyal and hard working and I wonder how much longer they  could be expected to put up with the erosion of their terms and conditions. Senior members of HMRC ie the "Board" should consider the long term effects on us all  of decisions made today and those planned for tomorrow. 

Finally I am lest wondering how HMRC Staff Federation will react to this, could we expect some future disruption in service?    

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Replying to penelope pitstop:
By Judgemental
24th Apr 2014 15:58

Too much to hope for.

Dandelion wrote:

So incoming post will be scanned and on screen within 48 hours.  Any mention of HMRC actually answering letters for a change ?

A very good point.
Thanks (1)
24th Apr 2014 12:08

Time ...

... for an application of Roundup (c)

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Glenn Martin
By Glenn Martin
24th Apr 2014 13:47

Be Iinteresting to See what penalties

the contractor has agreed to for non or poor performance.

I seem remember the IT contract for RTI was over £80M per month and was a hash from start to finish and seems far from a good system now.

The G4S shambles around the Olympic security also spring to mind when this has happened.

I would have thought building sufficient security into their IT systems so that email correspondence was classed as secure would be the way forward actively reduce the post they send/receive.

The annual cost of duplicated or incorrect post much be huge.

that must be where the biggest savings lie.



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By johnjenkins
24th Apr 2014 17:03

You have to ask

the question why should anything be privatised? 

It must be an admission of failure on behalf of our laws when outsourcing is cheaper than doing in-house. How can it be? Can't HMRC take on foreigners who can't speak a word of English? Because that's what the outsources will do.

If those in charge can't run the thing properly then get rid and get someone who can.

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Replying to The Innkeeper:
By miketombs
25th Apr 2014 13:59

Confidentiality assured?

johnjenkins wrote:

Can't HMRC take on foreigners who can't speak a word of English? Because that's what the outsources will do.

That solves the confidentiality issue....

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24th Apr 2014 20:29

Must be something to do with the start of the new tax year

The HMRC-bashers always appear to come out of hiding around this time of year.

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24th Apr 2014 23:04

Bashers it is then

I wasn't commenting on HMRC's performance - as a new member you're forgiven for not being aware of my own views of HMRC. I was merely raising an observation about apparently seasonal forum behaviour.

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By johnjenkins
25th Apr 2014 09:53

Since when

has constructive criticism been HMRC bashing.

Most posters on this forum could make a better job than the management team they have at the mo. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you can't control your post what can you control oh yes, don't give anybody any information to try and help sort out problems. I am not talking about the poor buggers that have to work under archaic rules.

What ever happened to agent strategy - brilliant idea - now caught up in management wrangles.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
25th Apr 2014 10:18


yes it needs sorting out.

But why cant HMRC do this and avoid somone's chum getting the deal and trousering several million pounds in the process?

Its really not very hard. 

Ditto sending the post out. Why is that so hard?

Its just a process. 

The main issue I see is making this the whole part of somone's job. How incredibly dull would it be to scan in all day. You would rarely design a "dead end" job in a private organisation like this as retention of staff and motivation would be a huge problem. 

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Replying to JD:
By jholmes
25th Apr 2014 13:07

Capital upfront

I would guess the reason HMRC dont want to do it in house would be the upfront capital costs of setting up the infrastructure required. It seems that we are forever stuck in a world where short term savings outweigh the long term costs.

PFI hospital anyone!?!?!?!

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By cfm-taxassist
25th Apr 2014 12:58

Yet another example of outsourcing/privatisation being used as an alternative for inadequate internal management.

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By MargaretThornton7
25th Apr 2014 13:18


Perhaps if the job of scanning post is deadly boring it might be livened up by checking the names for anyone famous. Even if they don't copy a letter I can't imagine celebrities tax affairs are going to remain confidential...

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Replying to johngroganjga:
By Mature Student
25th Apr 2014 13:46

Ah, but isn't there a specific part of hMRC that deals with HNW & similar individual's tax affairs? I suspect that the mail for this department will be part of the reason why only 'the bulk of personal tax mail will be outsourced by 2015'.

Joe Bloggs on the Clapham omnibus on the other hand won't get a choice as to who sees his letters and tax affairs - but then if tax data is to made available to all and sundry anyway ...

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By mikenorthampton
25th Apr 2014 13:37

HMRC post

Outsourcing your basic activities is an expensive way of losing control of your business; three months to reply to a letter?

Hmm maybe outsourcing could be an improvement....

From a former MIMC

(Member of the Institute of Management Consultants)

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By Nebs
25th Apr 2014 13:44


Or they could let everyone correspond by email through their online account, whereby the department will get a "digital version" immediately and not have to pay to have pieces of paper scanned then shredded.

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By Shay Daly
25th Apr 2014 15:01

This appears to be an effort towards a paperless HMRC operations.It wil be a disaster and be abandoned within 3 years.The only chance that this process will continue indefinitely is if HMRC dishonestly report that the venture is a success.
It should be obvious that this paperless world can only efficiently exist if there is paperless contact via email between practitioners and HMRC
This is an example of good thoughts being poorly implemented.My verdict is that this will be a disaster.
Chicken Farmer should be aware that confidentiality is a forgotten entitlement

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By arnold28
25th Apr 2014 15:14

Telephone Service

The article also mentioned that this would speed up the phone service. How so?

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By raybackler
25th Apr 2014 16:33

Typing pool

In the old days letters for typing were hand written, dropped off in the typing pool and emerged a week later, if you were lucky, for checking, signing and posting.  Along came word processing and email, which eliminated the typing pool and speeded up the whole process.  You can't exist now in the real business world without these essential tools.  So what does HMRC do?

Letters are sent out dated at least a week before posting, showing an artificially early response date reminiscent of the date the letter went into the typing pool, not when it came out, so whatever happened to word processing?  Email technology has been ignored and this prompts massive amounts of incoming correspondence, with which they cannot cope.  HMRC's solution is to digitise this, rather than address the real problem!!  They need to embrace the late 20th century, never mind the 21st.

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By pjlevi
25th Apr 2014 16:50

E-Mail and Security

48 hours is totally unacceptable.  E-mail would eliminate all the costs of outsourcing and save agents' and taxpayers' costs of putting everything on paper and paying postage and envelope costs in the first place.  If the small island of Guernsey can use e-mail with strong securely for its Income Tax Department's correspondence with agents and taxpayers why can't the UK?

This absurd proposal needs a full Government enquiry by the Treasury Select Committee before implementation and a comparison with the minimal cost and speed of using secure e-mail services.

As for the Unions, I am afraid the present postal department staff will lose their jobs either way; they need to be retrained into other careers, just like the coal miners in the 1980s.  The Unions need to learn to live with progress and to co-operate with employers to get the best deal they can for their members made redundant by helping them to retrain for future careers where their new skills are most in demand.



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By raybackler
25th Apr 2014 17:24

Today's post

Just to underline my comment above - even standard documents are wrongly dated.

Received today - 25th April - four Notices to deliver a Company Tax Return dated 20th April and two PAYE Coding Notices dated 16th April.

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By the_Poacher
26th Apr 2014 08:48

Email is a great idea for some if hmrc can afford to implement a secure solution but there are some people who will write letters anyway so there needs to be a solution for this too

Don't forget privatisation is an important part of the Tory funding plan. Government departments can't donate to the Tories but private companies can

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Replying to andy.partridge:
Wild Billy Hickok
By Wild Billy
26th Apr 2014 09:46

Secure messaging IS coming

You do realise that secure messaging is on the way so, soon, we will be able to interact with HMRC in the same way that we can with other institutions. I believe it is part of this:

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By blueskies
29th Apr 2014 22:26

and the improvement will come from where?

Yep sounds great in theory.

So the future - your letter on a screen in 48 hours to be misunderstood by a call centre staff member with no specialist training (or more likely no training at all)

Now - your letter read by a call centre team member with no specialist training (or more likely no training at all) when the post is opened (4 weeks after you sent it to them by Special Delivery!) later when the post is opened (as now)

Possibly cynical... but surely they need to focus of training and motivating their staff. I would be happier waiting the extra 3 weeks if I could talk to a knowledgeable and understanding person at the end of a phone at that time.

Surely the idiots that "manage" HMRC cannot believe that the current level of service they are responsible for is acceptable to their long suffering "customers"?  They cannot be proud of what they are responsible for.  If they have no pride in what they do; why should HMRC staff?


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By jonmillar
03rd May 2014 23:54



The real reason for this is the fact that post handling at HMRC has collapsed

Recent examples

Letters dated 2 months before the postmark on the envelope they came in--.demanding answers in 14 days

Replies received  61 days later in another case 142 days later

Denial of receipt by HMRC is spite of proof of delivery signed for

I have a load more --HMRC is not fit tor purpose -- farming out post will allow HMRC to pass blame to the external contractor and allow the  "commissioners" to cling on to their sinecures until they can escape to a more lucrative post

Incidentally a previous scanning of documents proposed was abandoned on cost grounds


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By AndrewV12
09th May 2014 09:15

Private postal service

I do not always agree with privatisation but it may work, I also though HMRC were looking to do away with post and letters, going down the email route. 

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