Scores of tax advice offices which provide a lifeline to vulnerable residents are set to close.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has announced plans to shut its entire network of enquiry centres in Sussex, putting 49 jobs at risk.
A new “flexible, face-to-face support service” will be rolled out in spring for customers needing help with taxes, tax credits and child benefits.
But unions said it made no economic sense to axe jobs from the department.
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Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: “HMRC has failed to make the case for closing these offices that provide a lifeline for vulnerable taxpayers.
“These closures seriously undermine the Government's claim it wants |to ensure people pay their taxes, and |it makes no economic sense to continue cutting jobs from the very department that collects the revenue that funds the public services we all rely on.”
HMRC has ten enquiry centres in Sussex, at Bognor, Brighton, Chichester, Crawley, Eastbourne, Hastings, Haywards Heath, Horsham, Lewes and Worthing.
The 49 staff across the county, including 11 in Brighton, will have three options: to work within the new service, apply for jobs elsewhere in HMRC or other Government departments, or take a voluntary exit package.
The department said a small minority of its 40 million customers use its centres, with demand halving from five million visitors in 2005/06 to fewer than two million in 2013.
The new replacement service is |being set up for customers to resolve issues with advisors on the phone in one go.
Mobile advisers will be able meet those in need of a face-to-face appointment at Government or community buildings or at a person’s own home or business.
The new service is expected to save customers £17 million per year in lost time and travel costs and save taxpayers more than £27 million each year.
Ruth Owen, HMRC director general for personal tax, said: “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.”