Shocked staff told HMRC plans to close all of the North-East's tax enquiry centres (From The Northern Echo)
For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Shocked staff told HMRC plans to close all of the North-East's tax enquiry centres
TAX enquiry centres operated by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs across the North-East are to close in a move which could affect the jobs of up to 130 staff.
Staff from the region’s 13 centres were called to meetings in Newcastle and York on Thursday afternoon to be told the offices were closing and will be replaced by a telephone service and home visits, where required.
The move is part of a five month long pilot scheme, which following a public consultation could see the remaining centres out of the current UK total of 281 close next year.
HMRC said it would aim to redeploy the affected staff elsewhere and it would provide a “more modern and accessible service that will target the right support to customers who need it, where and when they want it.”
Centres in Alnwick, Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham, Hexham, Middlesbrough, Morpeth, Newcastle, Scarborough, Stockton, Sunderland and York will all close.
Kevin McHugh, deputy president of the PCS union, who is based in the North-East, said the process was “basically a cost cutting exercise” and a “sham”.
He said: “The last Government made a promise in Parliament that there would still be a role for these enquiry centres, but this Government has overturned that and are saying they will close them all.”
It is understood the demographic of the North-East, with its mix of rural and urban centres, was one reason given for it being chosen for the pilot.
“HMRC have kept this well under wraps,” said Mr McHugh. “Staff are upset and visibly shocked.
“These enquiry centres deal with migrant workers, pensioners wanting advice about tax credits and people whose English is not the best and the door in the North-East to this service is going to be shut on them.”
Simon Elliott, the union’s Northern regional secretary, added: “This is not a pilot, it is a fait accompli as the result seems pre-determined.
“Our enquiry centre staff are extremely concerned about their futures and particularly those living in rural areas.
“It is okay saying staff are being re-deployed, but if you are living in rural areas like Alnwick or Bishop Auckland and you are unable to go anywhere else it raises the prospect of redundancy.
“My impression is that these centres are well used and it will result in a big reduction in service to the public.”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham also criticised the changes.
He said: “These are just the latest civil service jobs that look set to go in the North-East.
“This is all about cost cutting. Forget the needs of the public.”
HMRC chief executive Lin Homer said: “We will give a more specialised phone service for customers whose affairs can be resolved over the telephone, and face-to-face help to those who need it, visiting them at a place convenient to them, saving them both travel and time.”
The new service will save £13m a year. HMRC also said the number of people visiting the 281 centres had halved to fewer than 2.5m in the past year.
HMRC’s call handling capabilities have been criticised previously with some callers facing waits of more than ten minutes to get through.
People also have to pay to use the national telephone helpline, whereas calls made via the centres are free.