HM Revenue and Customs: Dealing with the tax obligations of older people - Public Accounts Committee Contents

3 Providing cost-effective support for older people

11.  The Department encourages taxpayers seeking information to use the most cost-effective method that meets their need, whether by telephone, post, the internet or face-to-face meetings. It recognises that people have different needs and that the most cost-effective method will not necessarily be the same for everyone. The complexities of many older people's tax affairs meant that it cost the Department twice as much on average to deal with enquiries from older people compared to other taxpayers. The Department recognised that handling the tax affairs of older people required a certain level of expertise. It had, therefore, decided to introduce greater specialisation by staff in dealing with older people, following successful piloting.[16]

12.  The Department was also committed to working with third parties where they were better placed to provide support to older people. Initiatives included:

  • Participation in the cross-government 'Tell Us Once' service being piloted by the Department for Work and Pensions in the North West and South East of England. The service enables the bereaved to tell the various authorities about a death just once;
  • Working with the Department for Work and Pensions and local authorities to improve information for older people on their obligations as an employer, if they employed a carer and had to operate PAYE, and
  • Pilots on working with large employers to provide information to people approaching retirement covering questions that the Department was commonly asked.[17]

13.  In July 2009, the Government launched its strategy 'Building a society for all ages'. This included plans to introduce from 2010 a one-stop shop to offer online, telephone and face-to-face support in one place to those who want to plan ahead. The Department supported the concept of the one-stop shop, but had only recently become involved in the planning of this initiative and in determining the best way to use it to provide tax information and support to older people.[18]

14.  Older people were less likely to contact the Department even though around 36% do not understand their obligations, compared to 26% of all taxpayers. The Department was unclear why this was the case. It thought older people could find completing official documents daunting and they sought advice more readily from family and friends, and voluntary organisations.[19] The Department acknowledged that the third sector had an important role in providing support to older people on tax issues. In 2008-09 it provided £165,000 to a range of third sector organisations, including Age Concern, the Life Academy and TaxHelp for Older People. The Department recognised that third sector groups needed longer term funding in order for them to reach more of the people the Department was trying to target. Future funding, however, would depend on an evaluation of their success as part of a forthcoming review of the Department's total grant-in-aid.[20]

15.  The importance of providing support through a variety of third parties was becoming increasingly important as the Department sought to provide the best possible customer service while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.[21] It was reviewing its arrangements for access to its enquiry centres as part of this. The total number of people visiting the Department's 280 centres had reduced by some two million in recent years and only 15% of those who did visit actually required an interview. It was taking account of factors such as the number of visitors to individual centres, and the nature of the population they served, in determining the future demand for face-to-face contact.[22]

16.  The Department acknowledged that older people often preferred face-to-face contact. It confirmed that it would not remove this facility where it was needed, and that it would look at extending the opening hours of enquiry centres in areas where there was a high proportion of people, including older people, who needed such a service. With the help of the third sector, it was also piloting mobile advice services to reach older people who were not able to visit enquiry centres.[23]

16   Q 16; C&AG's Report, paras 2.6, 4.2 and 4.4 Back

17   Qq 59-62 and 114; C&AG's Report, para 3.25 Back

18   Qq 19 and 20; C&AG's Report, paras 1.9 and 4.12 Back

19   Qq 22 and 115; C&AG's Report, para 4.3 Back

20   Qq 33, 57 and 58 Back

21   Qq 91 and 94 Back

22   Qq 18, 54, 55 and 80; C&AG's Report, para 4.10 Back

23   Qq 18, 54, 78, 82 and 83 Back

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Prepared 25 February 2010