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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 November 2007, 16:06 GMT
Life inside the beleaguered HMRC
Calculator and receipts
Morale within the department is poor, employees complain
Former employees of under-fire HM Revenue and Customs service have contacted the BBC News website to describe life inside its offices.

The news that the details of 25 million recipients of Child Benefit payments have gone missing has shone a spotlight on HMRC.

The agency collects and administers direct and indirect taxes; and pays and administers Child Benefit, Child Trust Fund and Tax Credits. It is also responsible for environmental taxes, enforcing the National Minimum Wage and recovery of student loans.

Formed in 2005 following a merger between HM Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, it has proved controversial since its inception.

But now it faces intense criticism after junior officials were blamed for sending computer discs with personal details of all UK families through the post - only for the discs to disappear.

'Pillar to post'

Speaking anonymously - as they have signed the Official Secrets Act - two workers who recently left HMRC - have told the BBC News website that they were not surprised to hear of the blunder.

Worker A, who left after more than 10 years' service, said: "I wasn't surprised in the least when I heard the news.

"The problems with Child Benefit are only the tip of the iceberg.

"Morale is non-existent. Mistakes happen continuously. Rooms full of unopened post are not uncommon."

It doesn't matter if you make mistakes because you won't be held accountable
Ex-HMRC worker

Following the 2005 merger, the agency is now governed by a board made up of a chair, eight other executive directors and five non-executive directors.

Critics and unions complained that combining two distinct organisations, with very different cultures and legal powers, was always going to be a difficult task.

The government has targeted job cuts of 12,500 from the 100,000-strong workforce.

Unions staged a series of strikes in protest.

"When the merger was introduced, job duplication meant that many experienced people were made redundant," worker A said.

"So we lost many of our best people.

"Others were moved from pillar to post, and the experience hit morale even harder.

"The lowest paid were all laid off, and all of their workloads were added to everyone else's."

Call centres

He complained that after a system called "lean processing" was introduced, jobs were divided up into their individual parts - every aspect was dealt with separately, and no-one has overall ownership or responsibility for the task, he said.

"Arbitrary, individual hourly targets meant that people cut corners," he added. "It doesn't matter if you make mistakes because you won't be held accountable."

Worker B, who was in a middle management post before he left in 2006, also claimed the merger of HM Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue negatively affected the way the departments worked.

This is a top-down matter - due to the target-driven, staff-reducing culture
Ex-HMRC middle manager

"There was the move to using call centres, which meant that people didn't take personal responsibility any more," he said.

"There were all sorts of closures of offices going on and all those sorts of things had a domino effect.

"There were additional targets - stretching targets - with reductions in staff, especially experienced staff, which really didn't help the cause."

He said he would lay the blame for the current problems "primarily at the politicians' doors".

"This is a top-down matter - due to the target-driven, staff-reducing culture."

'Exaggerated claims'

In response to the workers' claims of problems with post, a spokesman for the HMRC said stories of postal arrears were "not new and invariably turn out to be exaggerated".

"The volume of post into HMRC offices can fluctuate considerably, and in the event of a backlog arising, HMRC processing centres review and reallocate resources to ensure that the situation is dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible."

He also said the department would "not reduce posts at the expense of efficiency and performance" and that the National Audit Office had concluded earlier this year that a reduction in the headcount had not adversely affected the department.

HMRC also intended to reduce the number of buildings it used to release resources for "front-line activities", he added.

"By consolidating work in fewer locations HMRC will be able to work more efficiently and so improve customer service as well as providing better value for money."

There will also be an investment of 1.4 billion between 2007/08 and 2010/11, he added.

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