Trial leads to tax office closures
Revenue and Customs is to trial a new service for 1.5 million people who need extra help with their tax affairs which will lead to the closure of a number of offices.
HMRC said one-to-one support will be offered in a range of "convenient" locations, including a person's own home or business.
A total of 13 centres will close in the North and North East of England, including York, Sunderland, Scarborough, Newcastle, Durham and Darlington. If the trials are successful, the remaining centres out of the current total of 281 will close next year.
Lin Homer, chief executive of HMRC, said: "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 said it had calculated that the new service will save customers almost £12 million a year in lost time and travel costs, and will be more than £13 million a year cheaper to run than the current service.
The number of people visiting the 281 centres has halved from five million in 2005/6 to fewer than 2.5 million in the past year. The average cost per visit was £152 last year, compared with £3 per phone call and 9p per online transaction, said HMRC.
Closing all 281 face-to-face inquiry centres in the country would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers, said the Public and Commercial Services union.
The union urged members of the public to take part in HMRC's consultation, which ends in May, and to write to their MPs.
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Closing all face-to-face tax offices would break the link between people in communities and an essential public service they rely on. If, as we fear, flawed research has been used to justify these closure plans then ministers must put an immediate stop to them."