A new, flexible, face-to-face support service for customers who need extra help with their taxes, tax credits and child benefit entitlements will be rolled out across the UK by HMRC this spring.
Following a successful seven-month trial in the North East of England, the new service will provide expert advisers to resolve issues on the phone in depth, in one go. It will also provide mobile adviser support at a range of convenient locations for those who need a face-to-face appointment.
The phone advisers will be able to bring HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) experts together in a single call to resolve multiple issues, without transferring customers around different parts of HMRC to different advisers who each deal with a separate issue.
For those who need a personal appointment, HMRC’s mobile advisers will meet them at a range of venues – from government and community buildings to a person’s own home or business – at a time that suits them.
Customers who need extra help on any HMRC issue – from help with a tax return, to assistance with a tax credits claim – will be identified and referred to the new service by both HMRC’s existing helpline phone advisers and by voluntary sector partners.
Following the launch of the new service in May 2014, the current Enquiry Centre network will close.
Ruth Owen, HMRC’s Director General for Personal Tax, said:
HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers when they need it. The pilot showed that this is a valuable service for those who cannot get the help they need elsewhere.
Our Enquiry Centres offer a great service to those who can reach them. But they are spread unevenly across the UK, the number of people using them continues to fall, and our research shows that the majority of customers who do use them don’t actually need to. The new service will enable us to tailor help in a way that works better and is more affordable.
Our specialised phone service will help customers whose affairs can be resolved over the telephone, and our face-to-face help will be available to those who need it, visiting them at a place convenient to them.
HMRC will also make more funding and support available for voluntary sector organisations to help them to deal with customers who turn to them for help.
The new service will save customers around £17 million a year in lost time and travel costs, and will save taxpayers over £27 million a year, as a result of the closure of the Enquiry Centre network.
Only a very small minority of HMRC’s 40 million customers ever use one of the 281 Enquiry Centres, and demand halved from five million visitors in 2005 to 2006 to fewer than two million in 2013. Some centres are now open just one day a week as a result of the sharp drop in demand. Of the customers using an Enquiry Centre in 2013, just 11% needed a face-to-face appointment.
HMRC is discussing the impacts of these changes with staff in Enquiry Centres and its unions.
Get more information on the changes at www.hmrc.gov.uk/extrahelp
The new service follows a successful pilot which ran in the North East of England, which involved the closure of 13 Enquiry Centres. During the pilot, a consultation on the new service was carried out. The results of the public consultation were published in 2013 at www.hmrc.gov.uk/extrahelp.