Civil servant strike threatens tax chaos

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The Independent Online

A national strike by civil servants could result in fines for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers for failing to submit returns on time. The walkout at some 200 government departments and agencies is scheduled for 31 January, by which time around 10 million self-assessment tax forms have to be sent in.

Staff will not be present to ensure the forms are "logged", so £100 fines could be erroneously issued to taxpayers for failing to meet the deadline. Last year nearly 700,000 people submitted the forms in the last day or so.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, the largest Whitehall union, said he believed the biggest impact of the national strike would be at tax offices. He predicted that many of them would close, with a "significant" impact on tax returns.

The union said a two-week overtime ban and subsequent "guerrilla" action would cause prolonged disruption to the taxation process and other services.

Mr Serwotka said the union's tactics would be "very imaginative and eye-catching" - one of the walkouts under consideration would disrupt the work of the Treasury on Budget Day.

The strike, over jobs, pay and privatisation, will involve a range of workers including those who process passports and benefits as well as staff at museums and galleries. It comes after a near 2-1 vote in favour of action by members of the union, which represents 325,000 workers.

A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs said the self-assessment tax deadline remained 31 January. "Our advice to self-assessment customers is the same as it is every year - please file as early as possible and make payment online if you can."

Mr Serwotka said cuts in jobs were already affecting services delivered by many government departments. He singled out the Department for Work and Pensions, where 20,000 jobs had been lost, and Revenue and Customs, where he claimed 1 million items of post had not been opened.

The Cabinet Office Minister Pat McFadden said: "There is no need for strike action. The government values the civil service highly. If PCS members have concerns about job losses or pay, there is an established industrial relations process to discuss these issues."

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