HMRC operation overhaul questioned by experts

By Sam Shaw

Added 16th November 2015

HM Revenue & Customs’ plans to modernise its operation, consolidating 170 offices into 13 regional centres has seen tax experts question its motives.

HMRC operation overhaul questioned by experts

Bringing its operations into the new regional centres over the next five years will create a “tax authority fit for the future”.

The centres will be in Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Bristol, Stratford and Croydon.

HMRC said the plans mark the midpoint of its 10-year modernisation programme, which will include new online services, data analytics, compliance techniques, new skills and ways of working to make it easier for customers to pay tax online.

But a number of tax experts have raised concerns, wondering whether cost-cutting or improving customer service was behind the initiative.

Leading City investment and accountancy firm Smith & Williamson expressed mixed feelings.

While most people currently contact HMRC via telephone or letter and would not feel the impact, national tax partner Tina Riches said there were rare occasions where hand delivery of documents was required, which would now prove very difficult for huge rafts of the population, especially in the East of the country.

Voicing concerns

Beyond the significant impact for the huge number of staff affected, she also voiced concerns over the future quality of the online services, which currently seem to be more HMRC-friendly than with the end taxpayer or agent in mind.

She described lengthy forms which currently cannot be partially completed, saved and revisited if a piece of vital information is missing. 

“They are going to have to spend a lot of time and money to get to a point where people will engage with them.”

Riches also had particular concerns about the loss of regional offices in Scotland.

“The timing seems a bit off. With the Scottish rate of tax coming in you would hope they would wait for those immediate changes in Scotland to settle down first.”

Gradual change

A spokesman for HMRC said the changes would occur gradually, over a period of up to 10 years.

“We recognise our customer service has not been good enough recently and apologise to all those who have found it difficult to talk to us. We have gripped this issue and recruited around 3,000 new staff in our customer teams, also moving an extra 900 HMRC people on to customer correspondence in recent months.

"These improvements have started to make a difference. This month, we have answered more than 80% of calls, and average queue times are now around 10 minutes.”

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