UNION bosses have condemned closure plans they say will rob some of the most vulnerable people in society of free tax advice.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced yesterday 13 tax enquiry centres in the North East – including those in Sunderland and Durham – are to close by the end of September.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union says staff have already been told it is “highly likely” all 281 enquiry centres in the country offices will close.
“At the moment, people can get free face-to-face advice on subjects such as filling in their tax forms and claiming tax credits,” said PCS deputy national president Kevin McHugh.
Pensioners, single parents and people with mental health problems were among those using the centres, he said.
“In future, members of the public will no longer be able to come in and use the service for free – instead they will be referred to a telephone service, which they will be obliged to pay to use.
“The previous Government made a pledge that face-to-face advice centres would remain – this Government has reneged on that.”
The union fears the quality of service will deteriorate, even assuming that calls are answered.
“People will have to sit on the phone for up to 25 minutes at a time. Last year in HM Revenue and Customs, there were 40million missed calls.”
HMRC bosses had kept news of the closure plans a secret and staff had not been told until yesterday lunchtime.
“The department has not negotiated with us on this announcement and the staff were totally shattered,” said Mr McHugh.
“There were people in tears.”
Now the union was bracing itself for job cuts.
“If they close the advice centres, are they going to let people stay there or are they going to close the office?” said Mr McHugh.
“We believe this could lead to job losses.”
The PCS is urging people who oppose the plans to take part in HMRC’s consultation, which ends on May 24, and write to their MPs.