PLANS to cut tax office services in Sunderland could lead to job losses and even the complete closure of the centre, claims a Wearside MP.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott has written to the Treasury calling for a rethink on plans to cut the opening times of the HM Customs and Revenue inquiry centre in Sunderland.
Unions have already hit out at plans to cut the service from five days a week to four, claiming it will hit vulnerable customers hardest.
Now Ms Elliott has expressed her concerns to Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.
She said: “Approximately 500 staff are employed at the two HMRC offices in Sunderland. There is a fear that these proposals represent the thin end of a wedge which will ultimately lead to the closure of the tax offices.
“Several years ago it was announced that the Sunderland operation was to close by spring 2011. A reprieve was later granted. However, there is real concern that this is only temporary and the axe is poised to fall.
“As you will be aware, many of the HMRC jobs in Sunderland were relocated here as part of the Government’s regional policy following the collapse of our shipyard and mining industries.
“The local economy is, once again, extremely fragile having just gone through a period of renewal. Closure of these offices will have serious social and economic implications for the city.”
Ms Elliott said plans to reduce HMRC office opening hours at the Gilbridge centre in Sunderland had been put forward because of reduced footfall – but said this would ultimately lead to an even lower number of walk-in customers.
“If the Sunderland office shuts for one day a week they automatically lose their entire Immediate Payment Service to Tax Credit claimants,” she said. “Customers will, instead, be referred to the Sheffield-based National Payment Helpline.”
Ms Elliott said the footfall at the Sunderland office was the highest in Tyne and Wear.
An HMRC spokeswoman said: “HMRC is reviewing the opening patterns of its enquiry centres based on current demand. We are currently consulting on these proposals. A final decision on opening hours at Sunderland will be taken when the consultation ends in March