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    Help for the vulnerable after HMRC closes tax inquiry centres

    From:The Guardian   View:716   Date:2015-01-05

    Older people may feel left in the lurch when it comes to getting help with filing accurate self-assessment returns and other tax problems after the closure of the last of HM Revenue and Customs’ 281 tax inquiry centres last summer. But new types of help are available to the 2.5 million people a year who previously used these centres.

    The decision to shut the centres, which used to provide face-to-face help, was taken after demand for their services halved, from 5 million visitors in 2005-06 to fewer than 2.5 million in 2011-12, as the vast majority of customers chose to get help by phone or online.

    Costs had also rocketed, with the average centre appointment reaching £152 by 2012.

    In contrast, the average cost of helping a customer by phone is £3, while an online transaction is just 9p. So the move made financial sense, saving HMRC £13m a year.

    But acknowledging that some vulnerable taxpayers – including many older people – would lose out, HMRC has invested in improved services to help such customers.

    “The issue for many older people is that this is the generation that really prefers the personal approach, and losing the ability to go and sort out their queries and concerns face to face has been something of a blow,” says Deborah Stone, managing director of specialist advice website Myageingparent.com.

    “Getting their tax returns accurate is very important, and it can be far from simple if you have a number of different incomes. This can cause unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress without the proper support.

    Older people make least use of the internet, while many more will have hearing problems – so phoning a call centre can also pose difficulties. It’s important to know what routes are now available to get the right help.”

    If you need to make contact with HMRC, you can call their main telephone helpline numbers: either 0300 200 7950 or 0300 200 3300 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm on Saturdays. Be warned that call waiting times can be long, but HMRC say they are working to improve their call “pick up” times.

    Once through to the contact centre, if the adviser is unable to resolve your issue, they can now transfer you to a specialist team where the officer you speak with will stay with you until your query is resolved.

    This new team is made up of experienced HMRC officers, who can liaise with other departments within HMRC, hold three-way conversations to include a family member or friend, and call you back once they have investigated your query.
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