In its response to the consultation on the pilot closure of Enquiry Centres in the North East of England, the ATT is urging HMRC not to lose sight of the importance of face-to-face guidance.
The pilot scheme will see the closure of thirteen Enquiry Centres across the North East from 3rd June – 31st October; if successful, it will be rolled out throughout the country from February 2014. The Association has expressed concern over the length of the test period as major events in the tax calendar, when taxpayers may require extra help, will fall outside of the test period making it difficult to draw statistically supported conclusions.
The Association supports HMRC’s move to digitise information and advice; Enquiry Centres have not been running efficiently for a number of years and their closure will result in a welcome reduction in travel costs for customers. However, a new support model must incorporate, rather than be a substitute for, face-to-face advice. The Association believes that the focus of the new support model should be on what the taxpayer wants and not what HMRC perceive to be their need.
Yvette Nunn, President of the ATT, commented:
“It is absolutely vital that people – albeit unintentionally – are not excluded in HMRC’s development of a new customer support model. This can be ensured by placing an emphasis on comprehensive and far reaching training for staff, a sustained focus on the implementation and continual improvement of mobile face-to-face visits, and a more efficient, upgraded, telephone system. These will help to ensure that the disadvantaged do not become the excluded.
“We advise HMRC to also fully consider the burden on the voluntary and community sector; their resources are already stretched and they are now being asked to provide an even more comprehensive service.
“Another area of concern is ‘digital exclusion’; the consultation mentions ‘people who have problems with IT’ but this does not take into account the significant number of people who do not have access to broadband internet or even possess a computer.
“Finally, the importance of publicity cannot be underestimated in its contribution to making this scheme a success. Members of the public must be made fully aware that the only two points of direct contact with HMRC will be via telephone or online.”
Notes to Editors
- ATT’s full response to the consultation can be found here: http://www.att.org.uk/technical/submissions/supporting_customers