Inspectors revolt against plans to close tax offices

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The Independent Online
The union representing tax inspectors and Inland Revenue staff yesterday launced a national campaign against plans to close up to 100 local tax offices.

The Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union (PTC) claimed that the proposed programme of closures threatened taxpayers and the lawyers, accountants and other firms advising them with severe cuts in services at a time when the introduction of self-assessment was placing a greater burden and responsibility on up to 9 million taxpayers.

It said that almost all the offices earmarked for closure were in small or medium-sized towns, with many in rural areas. As a result, many taxpayers and their advisers would be faced with travelling great distances for tax advice and information. In addition, the approximately 70 staff in each office would face either redeployment or redundancy.

The union, which has already been protesting locally over the issue, added that the Revenue had yesterday announced the closure of a pioneering helpline to save money, despite the service being enormously successful.

The Revenue said that the Norwich-based telephone helpline was always envisaged as a pilot exercise and was being shut simply because its year of operation had been completed. It confirmed PTC claims that the helpline had received up to 600 calls a day and said that the information gained about the numbers of callers, types of query and the special training required by staff would be of great use when other special services, such as those to assist with self-assessment were set up in the coming months.

The proposals for shutting the local offices form part of a rolling programme to restructure the network that started in 1993 and is due to run until 2002. The programme stems from the greater integration of the Revenue's assessment and collection roles made possible by new technology.

A Revenue spokesman stressed that a decision had not yet been reached, though it is understood that submissions made by regional directors will be considered and decided upon next month.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation said it was concerned that some members not working for large firms might be affected by the plans and said it was keeping the situation under review.