Closing the enquiry centres: part two

March 28, 2013

In today’s weasel hunt, let’s move on to the detail of the proposed replacement for HMRC’s Enquiry Centres.

Section 2 of the document is all about defining our terms – looking at who these people are who need the “extra” help that will replace the Enquiry Centres.  There are six categories of “need” identified, one of which is people needing help because of HMRC “complexity and errors”.  The others are:

  • difficulty of accessing current services
  • personal confidence
  • mental or emotional state
  • lack of ability
  • complexity of the enquiry

and there are further examples and descriptions of what might put a person into one of these “needy” categories such as hearing or eyesight issues.

Now this bothers me.  I reject the initial premise that help should only be provided for those with “extra” needs rather than to all citizens, but even if you accept that premise and take it on its own terms, look at the contrast between this and the current enquiry centre offering, where it is explicit that “most” enquiry centres “can” offer

  • Induction Loops.
  • Lighted Magnifiers – to help you read our forms.
  • Crystal Listening Devices – to help you if you are hard of hearing.
  • Sign Language Interpreters – we can arrange a British Sign Language Interpreter for you if you let us know in advance.
  • Written material in Braille, audio and large print.
  • Help for people for whom English is not their first language – we can arrange interpretation for you. Please ask at your nearest Enquiry Centre.
  • Help for people who need assistance in completing forms or returns – We can help you. Please ask at your nearest Enquiry Centre.
  • Home Visits – if you have limited mobility or have caring responsibilities we may be able to offer you a home visit. Please ring the helpline.

I’m not sure how much I believe this – there’s a big difference between something you “can” offer and something you actually DO offer – but look at the proposed new “improved” offer:

3.6 The adviser will identify customers who might need extra help, based on a number of factors identified by our research. They include customers mentioning their disabilities, being particularly anxious and/or distressed, failing to understand the guidance being given or follow the conversation, repeating questions, inability to express themselves…

So let’s take the example of a person who is elderly and hearing impaired.  At the moment, she can go to an enquiry centre and ask to use the induction loop so she can hear the adviser via her hearing aid, checking for accuracy via lip reading and facial expression, and be treated in the same way as any other customer except for the organisation making the reasonable adaptation necessary to comply with the Equality Act in its dealings with her.

In future?  She’ll have to ring up and rely on an adviser identifying her as needing extra help – is she deaf enough?  old enough?  to be “deserving” of the “extra” help that the Department might “offer“?

Is it just me, or is this so offensive it makes your head want to explode?







(edited 28/3/13 to replace “DDA” with “Equality Act” – the requirement to make reasonable adjustments is now in section 20 of the Equality Act 2010)


  1. […] enquiry centres (the consultation closes on 24th May and I’ve already blogged about it here, here and here.  Oh, and here.  Not to mention here.) I should also check out what other tax […]

  2. […] Closing the enquiry centres: part two […]

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