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House of Commons Hansard
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Revenue and Customs: Buildings
29 March 2010
Volume 508
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To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what factors HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) took into account in determining the days and hours of opening of each tax enquiry centre; what mechanisms HMRC used to take account of the requirements of different user groups in each location; what provision has been made to assist the (a) elderly and (b) people with disabilities to face-to-face communications at those centres; what estimate HMRC has made of the number of people in each customer group who will be affected by the changes in arrangements for tax enquiry centres; and if he will make a statement. [319182]

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HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) remains committed to providing access to face to face advice services for those customers who need this form of support, at or close by where they are provided now. However the way in which the Department does so needs to change to reflect the fact that taxpayers are increasingly turning to online and telephony services.

This year, for example, HMRC’s Inquiry Centres will have 40 per cent. fewer customers nationally than they did four years ago. Of the remaining customers, 85 per cent. are able to resolve their query either by self service using the internet or by contacting one of the Department’s helplines.

However, there are customers who would benefit from face to face support who, for whatever reason, do not currently access it from HMRC. The Department is keen to extend its reach to these customers by developing, testing and taking forward new approaches to face-to-face service delivery.

In 2008, HMRC tested alternative opening patterns in 10 Inquiry Centres across the UK. This six-month pilot showed no adverse impact on those customers who needed face to face advice from HMRC.

Following this, the Department has moved to new opening patterns in a further 58 of our Inquiry Centres with low numbers of customer visits.

These changes were based on a variety of factors, including the number and pattern of customer visits and appointments, proximity to other Inquiry Centres and other local circumstances. HMRC has also considered demographic data (for example, concentrations of the elderly and lone parents) and consulted with representative customer groups such as Citizens Advice Bureau, Tax help for Older People, and Gingerbread with knowledge of particular customer needs.

HMRC makes various provision to assist the elderly and people with disabilities to access face to face advice in its Inquiry Centre network, including wheelchair access, induction loops and (by appointment) signing support for customers with hearing disabilities, lighted magnifiers for customers with sight disabilities. These services are based on individual needs, and will not change as a result of HMRC’s move to alternative opening patterns for its Inquiry Centres.

The Department has published an Equality Impact Assessment of the changes to opening patterns across its Inquiry Centre network which considers the impact of changes to opening hours on particular customer groups, and to ensure that all interested parties have an opportunity to comment. This is available at:

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/consultations/enq-centre-service.pdf

No such estimate has been made, as at present HMRC does not hold equality data on its Inquiry Centre customers. To address this, HMRC will introduce new processes from April 2010 to collect such data.