VITAL face-to-face help with tax enquiries could be lost in a huge HMRC shakeup.
Oswestry’s tax office in Castle View, Arthur Street, could be closed within the year as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs looks to save millions by focusing on a new call centre and mobile consultation system.
Outgoing Oswestry Town Councillor Heather Bickerton believes jobs will be put at risk and the elderly will suffer more than most.
“The potential for job losses in this area is obviously very worrying,” she said.
“And there is also the concern about the atrocious time it takes for the phone to be answered at HMRC already.
“What are people going to do if the face to face option is taken away?
Under the changes 13 tax offices in the North East will be closed between June and September as part of a trial which could lead to all remaining 268 UK offices shutting saving HMRC £13million per year.
The results of a public consultation on the future of the network as a whole, which employs more than 1,300 workers, will be revealed in July.
HMRC claims the new “flexible support service” will provide “mobile, one-to-one support in a range of convenient locations, including a person’s own home or business”. There will also be “expert advisors on the phone” and more funding and support available for voluntary sector organisations to help them to deal with customers who turn to them for help.
Lin Homer, HMRC’s chief executive, said: “This new service will enable us to tailor our help in a way that works better for customers and is more flexible and affordable than the service we currently provide.
“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.”
But the Public and Commercial Services Union believes the move will “cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers” and face-to-face meetings will only be offered in exceptional circumstances.
According to the union, in December 2012 the National Audit Office reported that 20 million calls to HMRC enquiry lines went unanswered in 2011/2012.
PCS 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.”
The union is urging members of the public to take part in HMRC's consultation, which ends on May 24, and to write to their MPs.