Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are to implement an indefinite good work action programme from 4 August which involves following guidance and work processes to the letter. As a result, the department is likely to struggle to meet its work targets including enforcement and compliance and post processing.
“In many cases the guidance can have up to 40 different screens to click through to resolve a fairly simple piece of work", the PCS points out.
“The department relies on members’ good will to memorise these processes and vastly reduce the amount of time it takes to answer a call, work a piece of post or open an enquiry.”
It has asked its members not to cut any corners to process work more quickly or to apply workarounds that are not contained in official guidance. It also wants them to ensure all emails, technical guidance and technical updates are reviewed at the start of every working day.
As far as taxpayers are concerned, it has asked HMRC staff to “take additional time with them to ensure that all records are thoroughly and diligently reviewed and any query, no matter how small or inconsequential is dealt with fully”.
In a union ballot in May, HMRC voted in support of industrial action. This has already led to HMRC having to extend the deadline for renewing tax credits by a week because of disruption caused by the three-day strike which started yesterday to coincide with the original deadline. Claimants will now have until 10pm on Wednesday, 6 August to make their renewals.
“We are very disappointed by the timing of the decision by PCS to call a strike to coincide with the tax credits renewal deadline,” said HMRC chief executive Lin Homer.
“It is a great shame that the union is asking HMRC staff to strike deliberately putting the livelihoods of hardworking families at risk to further an industrial dispute.
“We are giving people additional time to renew as we are determined to do everything we can to minimise the impact on tax credits claimants.”
The impact of the industrial action is already feeding through to tax advisors. Paul Aplin, chairman of the ICAEW Tax Faculty's technical committee and a partner in AC Mole & Sons, said that earlier this week a payroll colleague had spent 45 minutes trying to get through to HRC Cumbernauld, probably because staff had been redeployed to answer calls on tax credit renewals.
"There was a recorded message about strike action," he added, "and it didn't help frustration levels here."
How long the action will continue is not clear. The PCS says that HMRC walked away from negotiations after the union served notice of the three-day strike on 22 July. This was one day before the date HMRC had suggested for holding talks which the department than cancelled once it had received the notice. The union points out that it had to serve notice on that date if the strike was to take place at the targeted time.
An HMRC spokesperson said that the department remained "committed to resolving disputes through dialogue but is not prepared to negotiate where terms for industrial action have already been served before any discussions have taken place”.