Concern about Southport Tax Desk Shutdown – but delight at end of Taxman’s premium lines

ots-southport tax office mornington road ots southport

Southport’s Lib Dem MP John Pugh is highly-concerned about the prospect of local tax payers losing their face-to-face contact desk in Dukes House, Mornington Road. as part of HMRC’s “improvement” package.

Dr Pugh feels that the move, besides inconveniencing taxpayers, will put increased pressure on the taxman’s phone systems, which last year cost taxpayers a staggering  £136 million in premium line charges while they were ‘on hold’,waiting to speak to HMRC.

He says:

“A Public Accounts Committee Report has exposed that a quarter of the 79 million calls to HMRC went unanswered last year. Things have improved a bit since the study but they are still far from ideal.”

“The new taxman’s target of hoping to answer 80 per cent of calls within five minutes seems   inadequate and unambitious,”  says the MP. “It will still leave 16 million people waiting more than five minutes for a response. and there seems to be a real risk of things actually getting worse.”

Dr Pugh is encouraging taxpayers to respond to the HMRC consultation on the changes (closing all 281 of its face-to-face tax inquiry centres) which opened yesterday  HMRC claim that the move will save taxpayers almost £12 million a year in lost time and travel costs and slash their own running costs by more than £13 million a year.

*The deadline for consultation responses is 24th May 2013.*

“Basically,” says John Pugh, “‘HMRC considers that it will be able to improve service standards by reducing what it calls ‘avoidable contact’ with customers and using its staff more flexibly. The question is whether they will need to put in additional resources to avoid the kind of dismal performance we have seen in recent years. Just how they hope to improve standards of customer service, with fewer staff receiving a higher volume of calls, is a big question.”

HMRC plans to cut the number of customer-facing staff by a third by 2015. Their record is one of  not answering 20  million calls in 2011/12 and only responding to 66 per cent of letters within 15 days. These problems have arisen despite their spending £900 million per year on ‘customer service’.

Dr Pugh did welcome some of the proposed improvements, including the introduction of a call-back system.

“The best news is the move away from expensive 0845 numbers,” he says.

“When people have been kept hanging on the line, the premium charges have been an extra tax on the tax-payers.Tax Credit lines have already changed over and other HMRC services will transfer shortly.”

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