Enquiry Centres too taxing for HMRC

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, difficult to speak to at the best of times, has announced that it is closing all 281 Enquiry Centres signalling the end of face-to-face help for tax queries.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

No-one enjoys talking to the taxman, but now you’ll only be able to do it by phone, even if you want to. The UK’s central tax authority has announced that it is closing all of its Enquiry Centres, which currently help 2.5 million people per year with whatever tax queries they happen to have. 

It is thought that the decision will put 1,300 jobs at risk, but apparently HMRC thinks it will be able to re-deploy staff made redundant elsewhere in the organisation. Answering the phone, perhaps. Or sending letters to Amazon et al, asking if they’ll pay a bit more tax…

So why has it decided to shut down the service anyway? It insists that the number of people using the face-to-face service has halved from five million people in the 2005-06 year to 2.5 million last year. It also claims that each visit costs the service £152, and that at least 80% of these queries could have been solved using the telephone service or online helpdesk.

Chief executive of the HMRC, 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 service has come under fire recently for waiting times on its by-phone service, especially because the number costs money to ring. But it has pledged that from April, it has a target of making sure that 80% of people are waiting no longer than five minutes to speak to an adviser. 

HMRC has already revealed that it is trying to reduce running costs, and the National Audit Office said last month that it is trying to cut down by 25% by 2014-15, and simultaneously to bring in another £7bn per year of tax. This is obviously the first step, but we won’t know how valuable face-to-face interaction is until it’s gone, by the look of it.

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