HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is committed to providing access to face to face advice for customers who need this form of support. Most of our Enquiry Centres open standard hours – five days a week from 8.30am to 5pm regardless of local customer visits, but as more customers contact us online or by telephone, visits to Enquiry Centres have fallen 40 per cent since 2006/07.
We tested shorter opening hours in 10 Enquiry Centres in 2008 and feedback from the pilot was that customers were broadly happy with the change in opening hours. Following extensive consultation with national and local representative customer groups, our staff and other affected parties, we have changed the opening hours of a further 58 Enquiry Centres to reflect when our customers are most likely to want appointments for advice. A list of the opening hours for each office is available see Enquiry Centres opening hours. We have also published an Equality Impact Assessment of the wider changes we are making to the opening patterns across our Enquiry Centre network.
HMRC will still be able to assist the elderly and people with disabilities to access face to face advice in its Enquiry Centres, including wheelchair access, induction loops and (by appointment) signing support for customers with hearing disabilities as well as lighted magnifiers for customers with sight disabilities. These services are based on individual needs, and will not alter as a result of any changes to Enquiry Centre opening hours.
In order to protect vulnerable customers, we have a made an important change to the way in which we allow Tax Credits claimants to access emergency payments in the 58 locations where we have moved to new opening patterns. Where needed, these will in future be accessible over the phone, rather than from the Enquiry Centre, to ensure customers are not disadvantaged.
Most of the time freed up by the shorter opening hours for some Enquiry Centres will be recycled to other customer service work. For example, we will continue to support colleagues in Customer Operations on their priority work (depending on the time of year that might be handing customer correspondence or processing tax returns). We also want to test ways in which we can improve the delivery of face to face support to customers that need it so that they pay the right tax at the right time and receive the credits and benefits they are entitled to. In particular we want to try new ways of reaching customer groups that need that type of support but do not currently access it from HMRC.
We will be working with individual representative bodies, for example Citizens Advice Bureau; Low Income Tax Reform Group; Tax Help for Older People; Gingerbread and others to assess the best way of ensuring that these customers get the additional support they need.