Will HMRC staff vote to take industrial action?

Accountants may be interested to know that HMRC staff may be set to take industrial action over plans to employ private sector contractors in its tax credits call centres.

The Public and Commercial Services union are currently balloting members on the proposal, which if approved would see two private sector suppliers providing around 200 contract staff to two of the Revenues call centres next year.

Although this problem is confined to the tax credits section of HMRC, nearly 9,000 employees from the Customer Contact Directorate and 12,000 people working in customer operations are being asked to work to rule and support regular walkouts during income tax self-assessment season, one of the Revenue’s busiest periods.

If PCS members vote in favour of industrial action, it will take place on the 30th November, in parallel with action over public sector pension reforms.

Tax accountants and advisers are continually complaining about the standard of service they receive from HMRCs call centres. In 2008-09 it was reported that only 57% of calls to the Customer Contact Directorate were actually answered. This rose to 73% the following year and the Revenue claims to be on target to have a 90% pick up rate by the end of this financial year.

HMRC’s call centres have not lived up to expectations and have been earmarked as an area where savings can be made. The government expects HMRC to reduce its headcount and using external contractors could be one way of achieving this. However, the union is concerned that letting private sector staff have access to taxpayers personal data threatens their security and could lead to an increase in tax credit fraud.

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