Forthcoming closure of tax enquiry centres and who is likely to have to fill the void this leaves!

An employer client recently rang me to deal with a technical issue and whilst we were on the phone told me a story about having to deal a query raised by one of their employees. The individual concerned had popped into the payroll section at work with what initially seemed to be a fairly straightforward question about something that had appeared on their tax code notice and they wanted to discuss with it with someone who would know what they were talking about. As always the HR/Payroll department is often seen as the first port of call for employees who have a query about their tax affairs!

Unfortunately the specific question the individual had required access to  a lot more information about their individual personal tax affairs than the HR officer had available on their records. The employee really needed to speak to the tax office.  And that’s where the fun started!  The employee rang HMRC but was kept on hold for nearly an hour. They rang again and got through to someone who could not answer their question and the employee became frustrated so she decided to call in to the tax office. She walked round to the street where she had been previously, (her last visit had been about four years ago), only to find the office had closed some time ago. There was a notice on the door giving phone numbers, (the same enquiry centre number she had been ringing). She looked up local (sic), tax office addresses in the library and discovered that the nearest one is actually 40 miles away and this meant a three hour round bus trip. On arriving there she discovered that this one is only open two days a week and this was not one of those days.

On returning to work the next day the employee asked the payroll office if they could pursue her query for her but of course this is not possible with anything other than a simple administrative issue as matters of confidentiality intervene. Eventually by dint of joint telephone conversations involving HMRC the employer and the employee someone was contacted who could resolve the  issue and did so very helpfully and constructively but the employee  and the payroll officer were both by then extremely frustrated by  the time and effort involved in simply contacting HMRC. HRMC has recently announced that it intend to close its entire enquiry centre network in May this year. The public will thereafter be served by phone contact and a variety of contact points at a range of venues from government buildings to community centres and visits to an individual’s own home if necessary. Am I alone in thinking that one significant result of this is going to be a very large increase in the number of employees who see their employer as the only direct way of actually contacting HMRC and that this will result in a great deal of extra work for the payroll department?  I thought modern technology was supposed to reduce our workload but this seems to me to be one area where HMRC has really not thought through the way most employees think about their tax and who they believe ought to be able to help them resolve their queries. Yet another situation appears to be materialising where the poor old employer  is going to have to do a lot more unpaid work on behalf of HMRC.

Contributed by Russ Cockburn who presents courses and webinars on behalf of Quorum Training.

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