In a bid to speed up the process of responding to taxpayer letters HMRC are to relinquish the handling of its post to a private contractor, the EDM Group, from June of this year. This follows a successful three month trial in Cardiff and Portsmouth.
Currently, incoming post is scanned at a small number of locations within the Revenue including Local Compliance and VAT
The new service will help the Revenue to deal with 15 million items of post it receives in Personal Tax more quickly and efficiently, as post won’t need to be distributed around the UK or the department’s buildings.
A HMRC briefing note advises that the department will introduce a new system of scanning incoming post, enabling them to send it digitally around the UK in an instant and respond to taxpayers more quickly. Other key features of the document are:
HMRC are at pains to assure those working in one of its local post rooms that this move is not about saving money but rather improving taxpayer service and security. This will however reduce the number of Revenue postal centres and may inevitably lead to job losses
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is critical of the idea and is opposed to privatisation of work in “any shape or form.” In a response to HMRC’s announcement the union said:
“There are further critical questions that HMRC will have to answer about the tendering process and specifically why an in-house alternative has been ruled out. It is highly unusual for a tender to be offered and a contract awarded with so little engagement having happened with the recognised trade union “
“The employer’s [HMRC] renewed zeal for outsourcing work is a further demonstration of the politically motivated attack on civil service workers and PCS members in particular.”
The PCS also attacked the results of the trial, saying, “The trial showed that scanning incoming post was a viable option worthy of further exploration but critically the trial was predicated on the work being done wholly by HMRC staff.”
Not all mail received from taxpayers will be scanned, in particular bulky or fiddly correspondence such as business records and receipts.
I recently had to send duplicate documents to HMRC Local Compliance Bootle twice because they had either been lost or not scanned at all! It is a poor indictment on HMRC that they are so slow in making full use of modern technology and communications. Anything that helps speed up response times is a blessing but why oh why can the department not do this from within?
There is also the issue of taxpayer confidentiality but presumably EDM staff will be asked to sign the Official Secrets Act.