In January I wrote that the decision on the fate of HMRC's enquiry centres would be released on Wednesday 12 February at 1pm.
Yesterday HMRC did indeed announce their decision, all the 281 enquiry centres (employing 1,300 people) will close on 30 June 2013. As from then taxpayers will have to call HMRC to make an appointment to see a member of HMRC staff, in theory at a location that is convenient to the taxpayer (eg their own home).
There are, according to Lin Homer, three options for those who work in the centres:
"We have given our people three broad options to consider for their future.
One is to apply for one of the 450 jobs in the new service. Face-to-face staff have priority for these vacancies, which will be live at 3pm this afternoon on the Personal Tax intranet site.
They can also apply for a voluntary exit to leave HMRC on the best financial terms available.
Or, they can join the redeployment pool to maximise their chances of getting a new job within HMRC or in another government department."
PCS claims that there has been no consultation or negotiation wrt the decision. The union is considering balloting members regarding industrial action, all very well but that is rather akin to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The full text of Lin Homer's statement to staff about the decision is reproduced below (provided courtesy of a loyal reader):
"Messages: Message from Lin Homer: the future of our Enquiry CentresViews and comments welcome, I understand that HMRC's internal forum has some 52 pages of comments on the subject.
12 February 2014
As you may remember, I wrote to you last March about our proposals to pilot a new service in north east England offering targeted support to customers who need extra help to get their taxes and entitlements right.
I explained last year that, if the pilot was successful, it was likely this service would replace our Enquiry Centre network.
Our Enquiry Centres offer a fantastic 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.
We know there are customers who really need extra help from us because of temporary or permanent difficulties they face. We want our service to them to be as accessible and effective as possible, as well as being affordable both for them and HMRC.
The service that we piloted last year is based on giving these customers specialist, more in-depth help over the phone, offering face-to-face appointments if needed. These appointments are carried out at a location that is convenient for them, even at their home if necessary. It is absolutely not about withdrawing from offering a local face-to-face service for those who need it.
As well as running and evaluating this pilot, we also carried out a public consultation on our plans for the new service, and gathered a huge amount of feedback from our customers, partners in the voluntary and community sector and our staff.
On the back of all of this, we have decided to roll out the new service nationally. The new service will launch on 31 May and, as a result, our network of Enquiry Centres will close to the public on 30 June this year.
Our people who currently work in face-to-face were told about this earlier today. I know that many will be upset and disappointed by this decision. I want to emphasise that this decision is about providing a more tailored service for customers who need extra help: it is no reflection on the work, passion and commitment of our face-to-face staff.
Our Enquiry Centre staff were told this news in face-to-face meetings with managers earlier today. They are being given all of the information and support we are able to provide, to help them to understand the implications of the announcement and the options that they now need to consider.
We have given our people three broad options to consider for their future. One is to apply for one of the 450 jobs in the new service. Face-to-face staff have priority for these vacancies, which will be live at 3pm this afternoon on the Personal Tax intranet site.
They can also apply for a voluntary exit to leave HMRC on the best financial terms available. Or, they can join the redeployment pool to maximise their chances of getting a new job within HMRC or in another government department.
You may remember that last year I wrote to you about how we were beginning to transform and reshape our Department. This saw us launch two voluntary exit schemes – one for people in 21 offices across the UK which did not feature in the medium to long-term plans of some, or all, of the lines of business based there, and one for Debt Management and Banking staff, including a number of our people at AA grade.
The closing date for people to accept or decline their voluntary exit offers was 31 January. Around half of those we offered exits to have accepted, and 1,040 people will be leaving us on 30 April. We are still working through the implications of what this means for the teams and offices involved. I appreciate this is a worrying time for those involved, and I will come back to you with a full update when this work is complete.
In the meantime, we have continued talking to our lines of business about what the changing nature of our work means for our staff – in particular, for those at AA-grade.
The AA-grade is a valuable one in HMRC, and we have no intention of removing it entirely from the organisation. But as our thinking on the way we deliver our services, including far greater digitisation, has developed, it has become clear that far less clerical work is available for people at this grade.
That’s why, since July 2012, we have promoted 1,883 AA people to AO grade, where needed to meet our Spending Review commitments, with another 1,000 still in the promotion pool.
Despite this, we still have too many AAs for the work currently available, and for the work we will be doing in the future.
We have now launched a second voluntary exit scheme for around 500 AAs. Most are based in Enforcement and Compliance, with small numbers in other lines of business, and, again, they have already been given this news in face-to-face briefings.
Both of these exit schemes are entirely voluntary: we are not making people redundant or forcing anyone to leave HMRC. We are giving people the opportunity to leave us on 31 July on the best financial terms available, if they want to.
We have published comprehensive Q&As about both our Enquiry Centre decision and the voluntary exit scheme for AAs today.
Affected people are also invited to join a series of dial-ins starting on Friday and with follow up dial-ins on specific options next week. You are more than welcome to raise questions at these dial-ins.
I know there’s a lot to take in, and I know that lots of you out there this afternoon will be feeling very uncertain. We are absolutely committed to giving you all you need to make an informed decision, and will support you whatever that decision is.
Lin Homer Chief Executive"
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