The Taxman is to close down all of its 281 enquiry centres which gave face-to-face advice to almost two-and-a-half million taxpayers per year.

It its place, HM Revenue & Customs is to introduce a “flexible” telephone service, while visits can be made to “a range of convenient locations” including taxpayers’ homes and businesses.

The move, to be rolled out in 2014 will affect 1,300 jobs, although it is expected many of those will be redeployed within the department. Taxpayers, HMRC said, will save around £12m in time and travel costs, while it claims the service will be £13m cheaper to run than it is currently.

The number of visitors to the enquiry centres has halved from five million in 2005/06 to fewer than two-and-a-half million in 2011/12, the taxman said. As a result, it said, some centres are only open one day per week, while only 16% of visitors genuinely need face-to-face advice.

In addition, the cost for face-to-face appointments is expensive for taxpayers, with the average cost last year hitting £152, while one particular centre saw costs hit £500. In stark contrast, most calls cost around £3.

HMRC said it is “discussing the impacts of these changes with staff in enquiry centres and its unions, and will do everything possible to redeploy enquiry centre staff within HMRC”, or “help them to find another role in the civil service”.

Almost 1,000 of the 1,300 staff employed in the 281 enquiry centres are already based in areas where HMRC has other offices.

A five-month pilot to test these new services will run in the North East of England from 3 June 2013 to 31 October 2013, and HMRC has launched a nationwide consultation on the new service today.

Chief executive Lin Homer (pictured) said: “HMRC is dedicated to providing help to customers who need it. This new service will enable us to tailor that help in a way that works better for customers and is more flexible and affordable than the service we currently provide.

“We will give a more specialised phone service for customers whose affairs can be resolved over the telephone, and face-to-face help to those who need it, visiting them at a place convenient to them, saving them both travel and time. HMRC will provide a more modern and accessible service that will target the right support to customers who need it, where and when they want it.”

Story from Accountancy Age