HMRC chief Jon Thompson sets out restructuring after customer service criticism

Written by Matt Foster on 19 September 2016 in News

HMRC chief Jon Thompson (pictured) says reorganising four existing lines of business into a more simplified structure will ensure that HMRC is "fit for the future" – as union says there is "nervousness" among some staff over timing of the changes

HM Revenue and Customs has announced a major restructuring of its operations and promised to become "truly focused on customers", after heavy criticism of the service it provides to taxpayers.

The tax authority has drawn repeated fire from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee over the years, with PAC's latest report on HMRC saying service levels had "collapsed" in 2015 because the authority had underestimated demand for telephone calls when it implemented thousands of job cuts.

Although HMRC's performance has since improved, the committee said the tax authority had still "not considered the costs to customers of providing a sub-standard service" and needed to do more to make sure it always had the right number of staff in place at times of high demand.

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HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson has now confirmed that the department has started reorganising its four existing lines of business into a more simplified structure designed to ensure that HMRC is "fit for the future".

In a letter to the PAC, Thompson revealed that the department's directorates would be placed into three new groups from next month, in a move which has already been given a cautious welcome by the union for senior tax officials.

A new "customer strategy and tax design" group will bring together HMRC's existing customer strategy, tax policy, process design and tax assurance teams, Thompson said. That group will be led by Jim Harra, currently HMRC's business tax director general.

Ruth Owen, the tax authority's director general for customer service, is to head up an "expanded customer services group", Thompson said, "which includes all of our big operational teams".

Meanwhile, Thompson announced that a new customer compliance group would "tackle non-compliance and enforcement for all customer groups, including large businesses". That group is to be led by Jennie Granger, HMRC's director general for enforcement and compliance.

Explaining the move, Thompson said: "These changes will help us to become an organisation that is truly focused on customers, providing great customer service and designing policies, products and processes with customers in mind.

"They will also enable us to deepen our specialist skills and knowledge, by bringing together teams engaged in similar work allowing us to respond more flexibly and speedily to changing business and customer needs."

Vicky Johnson, president of the Association of Revenue and Customs – the union for senior tax officials in HMRC – told CSW that the overhaul made "perfect sense" and would go some way to tackling the impression that the tax authority gives softer treatment to big business than it does to individual taxpayers.

Explaining the present situation at HMRC, Johnson said: "We've got different lines of business who all deal with customers and so we've got no cohesion around the way we treat them.

"This is putting the customer at the heart of everything that we do. Whether you're a large corporate, a medium-sized business or an individual, self-employed, person your return will go into the same customer service directorate, and will be reviewed in the same manner before it goes out to the individual directorates that deal with it to address any shortcomings."

"It's HMRC's opportunity to get it absolutely spot on right and we're really keen to work with them to do it," – Vicky Johnson, ARC union

Johnson said that while she did not agree that HMRC had been "soft on business" in recent years, she said the move would help to challenge the public perception" that large firms were treated differently and bring "more cohesion" to the tax authority's day-to-day running.

However, Johnson also pointed out that the rejig comes at a time when staff are feeling a degree of "nervousness" over HMRC's plans to close the majority of its regional offices by 2020.

The "Building Our Future" programme will see the tax authority's network of 170 offices cut to just 13 regional centres over the course of the decade.

The process has already resulted in redundancies, and there are fears that some staff will be unable to relocate to new offices that are potentially much further from their existing workplace.
Johnson said the closure programme increased the "sensitivity and tension" around the new reorganisation because forming three new groups could mean an "alteration of where those groups will want to carry out their business".

"If, for example, you're sitting in a line of business based outside a regional centre location and you are due to move into the nearest regional centre, does this change in structure mean that your line of business might not actually migrate there?”

"What does that mean for you personally in terms of your job when you get to the regional centre? We're being told it won't affect it, but there's a little bit of nervousness about that as the reorganisation goes ahead."

Johnson said the union would be pressing HMRC to ensure that the organisation was both "properly resourced to deliver the new structure" and"properly equipped for the diverse needs of the people who work in them".

"It's HMRC's opportunity to get it absolutely spot on right and we're really keen to work with them to do it," she said.

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Matt Foster
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Matt Foster is CSW's deputy editor. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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