HMRC are to replace Enquiry Centres with a new, flexible support service for 1.5 million customers who need extra help with their tax affairs.
The new service will be piloted by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) from June. It will provide mobile, one-to-one support in a range of convenient locations, including a person’s own home or business. It will also provide expert advisors on the phone, trained to deal with people who need extra support, to help a caller until the issue is resolved. 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.
Lin Homer, HMRC’s Chief Executive, said:
HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers who need it. This new service will enable us to tailor that help in a way that works better for customers and is more flexible and affordable than the service we currently provide.
We will give a more specialised phone service for customers whose affairs can be resolved over the telephone, and face-to-face help to those who need it, visiting them at a place convenient to them, saving them both travel and time. HMRC will provide a more modern and accessible service that will target the right support to customers who need it, where and when they want it.
HMRC has calculated that the new service will save customers almost £12 million a year in lost time and travel costs. It will be more than £13 million a year cheaper to run than the current service, as a result of the closure of the Enquiry Centre network in 2014. Face-to-face support will be provided to suit the customers who need it – no longer constrained by the fixed location and limited opening times of Enquiry Centres.
HMRC’s 281 Enquiry Centres have seen customer demand halved, from five million visitors in 2005/06 to fewer than 2.5 million in 2011/12. Some centres are now open just a day a week as a result of the sharp drop in demand. Of the customers using an Enquiry Centre in 2012, just 16 per cent needed a face-to-face appointment.
The cost of Enquiry Centre appointments is also high: the average cost was £152 per appointment last year, and in one centre the cost reached £500 per appointment. In contrast, the average cost of serving a customer by phone is £3 per call, and an online transaction costs just 9 pence.
The vast majority of customers never use an Enquiry Centre: HMRC handles more than 60 million calls a year and millions of online transactions, such as for filing self assessment and VAT returns. Recent investment and improvements in our contact centres mean that we are now answering 90 per cent of all calls, and moving our numbers from 0845 to cheaper 03 alternatives makes calling us more affordable. For those who cannot afford a call, HMRC can also arrange for a call back.
HMRC is discussing the impacts of these changes with staff in Enquiry Centres and its unions, and will do everything possible to redeploy Enquiry Centre staff within HMRC, or help them to find another role in the Civil Service. Almost 1,000 of the 1,300 staff employed in our 281 Enquiry Centres are already based in areas where HMRC has other offices.
The Enquiry Centres that will be closed in the pilot are:
- Bishop Auckland
A five-month pilot to test these new services will run in the North East of England from 3 June 2013 to 31 October 2013, and HMRC has launched a nationwide consultation on the new service. The consultation on the new service will run until 24 May, with the results to be published by the end of July 2013.
If successful, HMRC will implement this new service across the UK between February and May 2014 and close the remaining Enquiry Centres.