Portsmouth tax offices set to shut in May to help save ‘millions’

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TAX offices in Portsmouth and Cosham will close in May to help the government save money, it has been announced.

HM Revenue & Customs will close all enquiry centres, including Portsmouth’s walk-in tax office in Wingfield House in Commercial Road and in Cosham’s Lynx House.

A new, ‘flexible, face-to-face support service for customers’ will be rolled out, providing advisors on phone lines and a mobile service.

Following a seven-month trial in the north east of England, the new service will provide expert advisers to resolve issues on the phone.

It will also provide mobile adviser support at a range of locations for those who need a face-to-face appointment.

HMRC says the new service will allow phone advisers to bring experts together in one call to resolve issues without transferring customers around different parts of the department.

But the area’s Public and Commercial Services branch chairman, which represents tax office workers, has criticised the decision.

Patrick Smyth, chairman of the union’s Portsdown Vectis branch, said: ‘The loss of this free and valuable support for taxpayers will prove to be a false economy.

‘We will be campaigning up to the last minute to keep the enquiry centres open.

‘This decision can be reversed. With the loss of jobs in the dockyard it is vital for the local economy that public sector jobs are kept in Portsmouth.’

According to HMRC, the new service will save customers around £17m a year in lost time and travel costs, and will save taxpayers more than £27m a year.

It says ‘only a very small minority’ of HMRC’s 40m customers ever use one of the country’s 281 enquiry centres, and demand halved, from five million visitors in 2005/06 to fewer than two million in 2013.

Ruth Owen, HMRC’s director general for personal tax, said: ‘HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers when they need it.

‘The pilot showed that this is a valuable service for those who cannot get the help they need elsewhere.

‘Our enquiry centres offer a great service to those who can reach them.

‘But they are spread unevenly across the UK, the number of people using them continues to fall, and our research shows that the majority of customers who do use them don’t actually need to.

‘The new service will enable us to tailor help in a way that works better and is more affordable.’