Were accountants hit by HMRC lightning strikes?

Accountants struggling to submit self-assessment tax returns for their clients may have encountered problems getting through to the HMRC helplines last week.

Last Monday, 20,000 tax staff staged a lightning walkout to protest at the plan to allow private companies to handle their workload. Sitel and Teleperformance are going to operate call handling trials in the Revenue’s tax credit call centres in Bathgate in Scotland and Lillyhall in Cumbria.

The PCS union says that the government should be investing in existing staff instead of bringing in private companies.

More strikes are planned for later this month and the 31st January, which is the deadline for filing self-assessment income tax returns, is one of the days when strike action will take place.

Last week’s action involved staff walking out for 30 minutes at both 10am and 16:30. Furthermore, anyone whose shift ended after 19:00 would down tools half an hour early.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS, said that it was completely unreasonable to hand contracts to private enterprises when tens of thousands of civil servants were losing their jobs. Instead of privatising public services, the coalition should invest in equipping and training its own employees to make sure they can provide essential services.

A spokesman for the Revenue explained that the department was not privatising existing contact centre positions but it does want to improve the level of service it provides and is considering various options. As part of that, HMRC is drawing on the experience and knowledge of external call centre operators.

He went on to say that the industrial action was unnecessary and the Revenue will do everything in its power to reduce any disruption caused to the public.

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