HM Revenue & Customs is to undergo a major change, combining 170 offices into 13 major hubs. These changes are part of a major restructuring plan to save hundreds of millions pounds but will leave many towns and cities without a tax office. It is also likely to mean many of its staff will be made redundant; these announcements could come as early as Thursday.
Concerns have been expressed as the plan will result in no tax-office in south-west England and no coverage in East Anglia. The closures are expected to negatively affect the already poor customer service record. Last year the average wait for a call to HMRC was two minutes and 44 seconds, this year it was 14 minutes and 22 seconds.
HMRC reduced its staff numbers to 56,000 over the decade since it replaced the Inland Revenue, the overhaul of offices will see employees expected to travel or changes roles so that redundancies can be minimised. This plan is expected to be gradual, taking up to 10 years.
HMRC staff were warned earlier this year that it would have to find £80m as part of George Osborne’s plan to cut day-to-day spending by 40%. In the last financial year, HMRC cut £210m from its costs which means it has saved £991m over the past four years.
Over the last year, HMRC closed the last 281 walk-in help centres which removed the option of face-to-face help for 2.5 million people. The further pressure on its telephone services meant an additional 3,000 staff were required to man the phones following the missing of customer service targets.
The Public Accounts Committee has voiced concerns that the amount of tax collected in Britain could be hindered by the poor handling of the 60 million calls a year to HMRC. Others have expressed worries that experienced tax offers will choose to leave the department rather than move to one of the 13 offices.
Ms Homer, Chief Executive of HMRC, explained HMRC has released documents to each of the firms hoping to set up the regional centres. These offices are to be staff by up to 7,500 people and supported by an office of specialists.
This is all part of HMRC’s “Building our Future” project which looks to create purpose-built properties and IT systems over the next five years in the hope of cutting costs while making payments quicker and more straightforward for taxpayers. The move towards more online services requires infrastructure in the offices which can deal with the changing needs so that the delivery of services to customers is improved.