The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) staged a one day strike on 31 January 2012, the same day as HMRC’s deadline for submitting self-assessment tax returns online.
The strike took place in protest of private sector companies and the contracts they are given; a year long trial using two private companies to answer some tax office calls will result in an additional £4m for UK tax payers on top of the cost of running HMRC.
The strike resulted in HMRC call centre staff walking out of one of HMRC’s four call centres on the deadline day for annual self-assessment tax returns.
Before the 24 hour strike took place HMRC announces that those who miss the 31 January deadline would not be issued with an instant £100 tax penalty or interest on any tax owed until 2 February 2012, two days after the deadline.
A spokesman for HMRC, said:
“We’ve always been very clear that we want the returns – not the penalties. For that reason, we don’t want anyone who can’t get through for help and advice on 31 January to be disadvantaged in any way.”
The strikes by call centre staff on 31 January did not in fact stop tax payers from submitting their self-assessment tax returns online, it did however make it harder for tax payers to contact a customer service operator at HMRC should they of encountered any problems; only 1 in 5 call centre staff were thought to have shown for work on the day of strikes.
It was expected that around 600,000 people in the UK would file their tax return on 31 January 2012. Out of those submitting their tax return on the deadline day HMRC expected around 90,000 tax payers would try contacting HMRC’s call centres.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the public and commercial services trade union (PCSU), said:
“When jobs in HMRC and the civil service are being cut in their tens of thousands, it is entirely wrong to start handing contracts to private companies.
“Instead of privatising ever more of our public services, the government should be investing in its own staff to ensure they are equipped and trained to provide the essential services they are proud to deliver.”
Last financial year less than 50% of tax payers contacting HMRC customer services got through to a call centre on their first try, compared to the industry benchmark of a 90% success rate.
HMRC has been criticised in the past by the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) for the revenue’s response to tax payers’ phone calls and were labelled by the head of the TSC, Andrew Tyrie, as “patchy at best and unacceptable at worst”.
Prior to the planned PCSU strikes Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Guake, said:
“This strike could have caused thousands of people to incur fines, so I am pleased that HMRC has taken this common sense approach. The Government does not want anyone trying to file their tax return on time to be unfairly penalised because they were unable to get through for help and advice on the 31st.”
HMRC have also toughened their stance on self-assessment tax return penalties for late submission. Regardless of whether you owe any outstanding tax you will be issued with an automatic £100 penalty should you miss the deadline.
To see a flow chart outlining HMRC’s new tax penalty regime for the late submission of self-assessment tax returns and the fines you will receive three, six and twelve months after the deadline please click here.
Kevin Kinsella, of KinsellaTax, said:
“Well well well, HMRC as usual can move the goal posts when it wants to. Unfortunately the tax payer can’t. I wonder if a taxpayer who went on strike and offered that as an excuse for being 1 or 2 days late would be excused from paying the £100 fine… Of course they wouldn’t.”
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