HMRC staff are set to go on strike in a series of regional walkouts this week as the first phase of HMRC enquiry centres close in Northeast report Northampton accountants Harris & Co as part of their accountancy services to small businesses.
The strikes form part of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) three-month civil service-wide campaign over cuts to pay, pensions, jobs and working conditions,which has involved weeks of industrial action among 250,000 public sector workers since a national walkout on Budget day on 20 March.
These strikes come as the PCS is campaigning to stop government plans to close all 281 of HMRC"s walk-in tax advice centres in the UK and divert enquiries to already overloaded jobcentres.
Pilot closures of 13 enquiry centres in the north east of England starts today with plans to close all centres in 2014.
Last week the union"s annual conference agreed to hold a fresh national civil service-wide strike towards the end of June if the government continues to refuse to negotiate. Dates will be set at a later date and co-ordinated alongside other unions where possible.
Regional walkouts at HMRC offices are scheduled for the Northeast, Yorkshire and Humber on 3 June, North West, Cumbria and Northern Ireland on 4 June, London, Southeast and the Midlands on 5 June, Wales and Southwest on 6 June and Scotland and eastern England on 7 June.
The main institutes, including ICAEW, ATT and CIOT have all questioned the rationale for the closures of HMRC’s enquiry centres, stating that the consultation was rushed and did not allow enough time for proper review. Yvette Nunn, president of the ATT, said: ‘It is absolutely vital that people – albeit unintentionally – are not excluded in HMRC’s development of a new customer support model.
‘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.’
There are also concerns that the emphasis on digital delivery threatens to exclude tranches of the public from access to critical HMRC and tax information.
‘The importance of publicity cannot be underestimated in its contribution to making this scheme a success,’ warned Nunn. ‘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.’ A HMRC spokesperson said: "We will do everything possible to maintain essential services to the public."