HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has today announced that it is planning to close 137 of its local tax offices, replacing them with 13 new regional tax offices.
The regional centres, the first one of which could be launched as early as 2016 with the rest opening between 2017 and 2021, will generally be in areas with good transport links. Although HMRC is unable to disclose exact locations, the regional hubs for London, South East and East of England will be in Croydon and Stratford.
Although HMRC expects that most of its 58,000 full-time equivalent workforce will be able to move from a local tax office to a region hub, the tax authority does ultimately plan to cut its staff numbers in a bid to streamline its workflow and make better use of technology. According to the corporate report on the move, HMRC estimates that about 90 per cent of its current workforce would either be able to work in a regional centre or “see out their career in an HMRC office”.
Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC, said: “HMRC is committed to modern, regional centres serving every region and nation in the UK, with skilled and varied jobs and development opportunities, while also ensuring jobs are spread throughout the UK and not concentrated in the capital.
“HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices. This makes it difficult for us to collaborate, modernise our ways of working, and make the changes we need to transform our service to customers and clamp down further on the minority who try to cheat the system.”
Jim Meakin, UK head of tax at RSM, commented: “Is this change designed to provide a better service to HMRC’s customers or simply save costs? If it is the former then it is to be welcomed. If it is the latter then there is a risk service standards will slip which will not be good news for anyone who has to contact HMRC when it comes to agreeing tax codes or liabilities.
“The prospect of waiting even longer for HMRC to answer the phone will be of most concern. If however the move to a hub will help guarantee swifter response times and even perhaps someone who will answer the telephone when it rings and who is trained to deal with my query, then the location of the HMRC hub becomes somewhat irrelevant in this digital age.”
The UK's tax authority has come under criticism recently for its customer service quality. A Public Accounts Committee report released earlier this month slammed HMRC's customer service for being so bad that it could be having “an adverse impact on the collection of tax revenues”.