An industrial dispute between Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff and their employers will create chaos on the day of the tax return deadline, experts have warned.
Around 20,000 HMRC staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union are planning a 24-hour walkout in protest at a planned private sector takeover of the Revenue's call centres.
The union fears staff who will be re-employed by private sector contractors will cut pay by up to £3,000 for some employees and make many more redundant.
David Wilson, associate director of VAT at Baker Tilly, said the annual rush to file online tax returns by midnight on 31 January will be worsened by the staff shortages.
Last year, 570,000 people filed their tax return online on the last day.
"Someone aiming to file online on 31 January seeking some last-day advice from HMRC may run into difficulties in obtaining assistance," Wilson said.
"If the submission of the online return is delayed because advice is not available, HMRC might concede that a reasonable excuse is in point and agree to cancel the automatic penalty.
"Accordingly, any individuals whose delayed online filing is caused by the strike should keep a record of their abortive attempt to call HMRC and ensure that they file the outstanding return soon after the query is answered, presumably no later than 1 February."
HMRC has awarded contracts to two private sector companies, Sitel and Teleperformance, to conduct 12 month trials of their services in call centres at Bathgate in Scotland and Lillyhall in Cumbria.
More than 40 MPs have signed an early day motion (EDM) calling on the government to end private sector tendering for telephony services at HMRC.
HMRC employs around 74,000 people, 60,000 of whom are PCS members.
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