Closing all 281 HMRC tax enquiry offices, including the one in Louth, would ‘break the link between people in communities’ according to a trade union.
PCS, the Public and Commercial Services union, has condemned the proposed wave of closures by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which were mooted last week.
Louth’s enquiry centre in Lincoln Way on the Fairfield Enterprise Centre will be one of those closing from if a pilot scheme in the North East is successful, which would see HMRC close all of its sites in favour of telephone and home visits.
But PCS believe the closures would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers.
HM Revenue and Customs has said, from June to September, 13 enquiry centres in the north east of England will close and has launched a consultation on the future of the network as a whole, which employs more than 1,300 workers, though it is not yet known how many people are employed at Louth’s tax enquiry centre.
But the union believe staff have already been told it is ‘highly likely’ all the offices will close.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Closing all face to face tax offices would break the link between people in communities and an essential public service they rely on.
“If, as we fear, flawed research has been used to justify these closure plans then ministers must put an immediate stop to them.”
In recent years opening hours have been reduced in around 250 local tax offices. Now the government wants to shift all tax advice and enquiry work into call centres, with people only offered a face to face meeting in exceptional circumstances.
HMRC has faced severe criticism over its delays in answering telephone enquiries, and in December 2012 the National Audit Office reported that 20 million calls to HMRC enquiry lines went unanswered in 2011/2012.
It also estimated that members of the public spent £33 million in call charges while on hold and that the estimated value of their time while they are in the queue was £103 million.
The union said that market researchers calling on behalf of HMRC have asked whether taxpayers would prefer to deal with the department ‘by phone, post or online’.
When told they would like to speak to somebody in person the researchers said this was not a valid option.
The union fears biased research has been presented to ministers to secure agreement to the closures, overturning a previous ministerial commitment to maintain local offices.
The union is urging members of the public to take part in HMRC’s consultation, which ends on May 24, and to write to their MPs.
HMRC believes the new service will save customers almost £12 million a year in lost time and travel costs, and will be more than £13 million a year cheaper to run than the current service.
Lin Homer, HMRC’s chief executive, said: “HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers who need it.
“This new service will enable us to tailor that help in a way that works better for customers and is more flexible and affordable than the service we currently provide.”