Tax profession hits out at cuts in HMRC help for taxpayers

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Sometimes the tax profession gets things right. This has just posspoed into my inbox from the Low Income Tax Reform Group – sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Tax:

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) have warned that people needing help with their tax affairs are facing ‚Äòthe slow death of the Enquiry Centre’.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have 280 tax enquiry centres around the UK. In March this year opening hours in 58 of these centres were cut. Some are now only open one or two days a week. HMRC are currently consulting on cuts to the hours of a further 117 of the centres.

In a response to an HMRC consultation, LITRG point out that visitors to enquiry centres have declined in recent years not because of a drop in demand for face to face advice, but the fact that recent restructuring of the enquiry centres has made such advice much harder to come by.

LITRG’s Technical Director, Robin Williamson, said:

“HMRC have been cutting back on their face to face service for several years now with the result that we are left with ever fewer Enquiry Centres, open for ever fewer hours.

“HMRC seem to believe that the reduction in footfall at Enquiry Centres is the consequence of a decline in demand for face to face services.  However our response, supported by voluntary sector experience, shows the converse – that demand for face to face services remains high, but the inaccessibility and frequently poor quality of the service now provided by Enquiry Centres has caused that demand to flow instead to the voluntary sector.

“A further scaling back of HMRC’s offering is therefore likely to lead directly to further increased demand on the voluntary sector where face to face services continue to be available.”

LITRG are calling on HMRC to:

(1) Improve HMRC’s own face to face offering, by both:

  • making the remaining Enquiry Centre system more readily accessible and providing an exemplary service in accordance with HMRC’s Charter (especially to those who have particular needs such as people with disabilities); and
  • reinstating a high street presence by working in partnership with other central and local government bodies and the voluntary sector.

(2) Carry out an urgent review to ensure that the voluntary sector is funded to meet the demand unfulfilled by HMRC.  This should include providing core funding to the specific tax charities, TaxAid and TaxHelp for Older People, thus enabling them to provide a stable and ongoing service.

The call from the profession does, of course, agree with the call from HMRC staff unions in this case.

And both are right.