A UNION which represents thousands of public sector workers in Swansea has criticised plans to close all face- to-face tax advice counters in Wales and throughout the UK.
HM Revenue and Customs is planning to shut all 281 inquiry centres in the country next year, with tax advice and inquiry work transferred to call centres, subject to a public consultation and a trial of the new arrangements in the north east of England.
The move would mean the end of any HMRC presence in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Brecon, Bridgend, Haver- fordwest, Llanelli, Newport, Pontypool, Pontypridd, Rhyl and Welshpool, which curr- ently operate an inquiry counter only.
It would also see inquiry centres taken out of larger tax offices in Cardiff, Carmar- then, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Porthmadog, Swansea and Wrexham. The PCS believes the changes would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers.
PCS HMRC West Wales branch president Steve Donoghue said:
"This announcement will come as a serious blow both to HMRC staff in Wales and to all those who depend on the services they provide.
"Our union campaigned — unsuccessfully, in most cases — to save Welsh tax offices when the last UK government downgraded many of them to a counter service only.
"At that time, the govern- ment said that service to the public would not be affected because a face-to-face advice service would remain in all the locations where the department maintains a presence.
"Now, the present government has torn up that commitment and people will no longer be able to go into a local office for advice on taxes, tax credits and other issues.
"We also have real concerns about job losses.
"Many of the staff affected will be able to transfer to another office, or to a different role within a larger workplace, but those based in towns like Aberystwyth, Bangor and Welshpool will probably be beyond reasonable daily travel to another tax office."
HMRC is looking to scrap its enquiry centre network and instead provide mobile, one-to-one support in a range of convenient locations, including a person's own home or business.
Lin Homer, HMRC's chief executive, said: "HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers who need it.
"This new service will enable us to tailor that help in a way that works better for customers, and is also more flexible and affordable than the service which we currently provide."