Union calls for end to drastic HMRC office closure and job cut plans

Plans for HMRC to drastically reduce its number of offices and staff could make it much harder for the department to do its job as a tax collector, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has warned.

The Building Our Future programme will involve closing over 90% of HMRC’s 170 offices, replacing them with 13 regional centres and four specialist centres.

This will drastically reduce the availability of HMRC offices, including shutting offices in major ports and cities such as Sheffield.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “HMRC collects the taxes that pay for all the public services we all rely on and the very fabric of our society depends on it being properly resourced and well run.

“The plan to close almost all of the UK’s 170 offices and cut thousands more jobs puts all this at risk, and the government must put an immediate halt to it and consult the public and Parliament about the kind of investment that is needed.”

A PCS survey found that 55% of HMRC staff thought the changes would have a negative impact on their work, because they would have to travel further to do on-site work such as cargo inspections at ports, VAT inspections of businesses, and attending arrests and interventions.

The plans mean there will be no offices west of Bristol and no Scottish offices north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, while the only office serving the East of England will be in London.

PCS warned the cuts could undermine HMRC’s drive to recover money lost through tax evasion, which has not been reduced in the past three years.

The survey also found 73% of HMRC staff thought Building Our Future would negatively affect them because it would require significantly longer commutes if they do not relocate to live nearer the new office. PCS estimates that some staff could see a 13% reduction in their disposable income because of increased travel costs.

HMRC is also planning to deliver more services digitally. The PCS survey found a mixed response to these proposals; 28% thought they would have a positive impact on HMRC’s ability to collect tax, but 39% thought it would be negative. Regarding HMRC’s enforcement work, nearly a quarter thought the impact of digitisation would be positive and 44% thought it would be negative.

HMRC cut 5,600 staff in 2014-15, hoping to make up the difference with increased digital services. However, the number of customers making contact by phone remained the same, and average waiting times for calls tripled.

HMRC is now proposing to cut its personal tax staff by 34%, prompting warnings from the Public Accounts Committee that it should test whether its expectations of increased digital take-up are realistic.

PCS called on HMRC to halt the implementation of Building Our Future, avoid privatising further HMRC functions; undertake a public consultation about the future of the department; subject its estimate of the tax gap to independent scrutiny; and consult with staff and unions about a strategy to retain existing staff.

An HMRC spokesperson said the plans would improve customer service and tax avoidance reduction by “bringing specialist staff together” in regional centres.

(Image c. Joe Giddens from PA Wire and Press Association Images)

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