By Richard Crump and Calum Fuller, Accountancy Age.
HMRC is planning to replace 170 local tax offices across the country with 13 new regional centres as part of a major restructuring project designed to slash millions of pounds from the taxman’s budget.
Severe cuts and limited regional coverage
The Daily Telegraph first reported that the radical plan will leave towns and cities across the country without a tax office and is likely to lead to thousands of the tax authority’s 56,000 staff being made redundant.
According to the newspaper, the cuts are expected to be so severe that there will be no tax office in south-west England west of Bristol, with little or no coverage in East Anglia.
Below shows a map of the UK highlighting HMRC’s existing offices and its 13 ‘regional centres’ which will feature in areas including Stratford, Croydon, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
‘‘We have been clear for some time that this will mean fewer, but larger and more modern offices that will help us to deliver better services to our customers and bring in more tax revenue for public services,’’ said a HMRC spokesperson.
‘‘These changes are part of an ongoing modernisation programme begun several years ago and will take place over the next ten years.’’
The radical plans come as HMRC faces criticism over its poor customer service. A report by MPs last week said the taxman’s record of answering calls is so bad it could be having “an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues.
Fears for the future
The tax authority pledged in June to allocate £45m of its budget to improving its ‘customer’ service, as it released statistics which showed an inconsistent call handling performance in 2014/15.
The cuts could stretch HMRC to ‘breaking point’, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has warned, with its tax faculty head Frank Haskew claiming the move places ‘‘yet more pressure on an organisation that is not delivering the level of service taxpayers have a right to expect.’’
‘‘The UK tax system is already struggling to cope with the demands being placed on it,’’ he added.
‘‘Our tax code is overly complex and places a significant regulatory and compliance burden particularly on small businesses whose focus should be on contributing to economic growth.’’
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), fears that the closures could present long-term problem for small business owners.
‘‘Our members have repeatedly told us about difficulties getting practical help from HMRC when complying with their tax requirements. The current online offering is limited, often hampered by poor broadband connectivity, and the phone help line is hard to navigate with long waiting times.’’
‘‘Over the long-term, this modernisation programme must bring substantial benefits and efficiency savings. In the short-term however, members will be concerned that the closure of these tax offices will simply compound existing problems.’’
‘‘The Government needs to reassure business disruption is kept to a minimum. This should be used by HMRC as an opportunity to deliver services which are easy to access, provide clear and consistent help tailored for smaller businesses, and provide the certainty they need for their tax affairs.’’