Disabled workers and elderly will suffer if Sunderland tax office shuts, claims union

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union outside Gilbridge House, protesting against the closure plan.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union outside Gilbridge House, protesting against the closure plan.
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DISABLED workers and the elderly will be among the losers if plans to close Sunderland’s city centre tax inquiry offices go nationwide, says the PCS union.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) unveiled proposals to close Gilbridge House and Shackleton House last year.

The plan will see more than 300 staff from the city centre, and about 200 from Weardale House in Washington, moved to Waterside House at Sunderland Enterprise Park, or Waterview House next to the Washington Wetlands Centre.

A handful of workers could be forced to relocate to the former benefits centre in Longbenton, North Tyneside.

The region has been used as a pilot area for a nationwide plan to close all of HMRC’s 281 contact centres nationwide.

The PCS says more than 1,300 staff nationwide deal with in excess of 2.5million customers face-to-face and that replacement internet and telephone services are already struggling to cope.

Staff from Gillbridge House took to the streets of Sunderland as part of a campaign to protest the plans. Staff across the country have been taking part in demonstrations

The union says the plan will have a particular impact on the disabled, migrant workers, the self-employed and the elderly, who use the service most.

John Davidson, the unions’s HMRC departmental lead negotiator, said the union was urging ministers to rethink the closure proposals.

“Rather than seeking to improve their customer service, HMRC is closing all of its local enquiry centres, penalising ordinary taxpayers who simply need help in filling out returns or getting advice.

“It will threaten the jobs of highly qualified, skilled and customer-focused dedicated staff, while heaping more pressure on the remaining workforce.

“We are urging the department to keep these vital local offices open to the public.”