31 January 2022

Special Working Arrangements (SWAs)

Colette Smith, assistant group secretary for PTOps (Personal Tax Operations) talks about the difficulties of agreeing SWAs (Special Working Arrangements) in the aftermath of PaCR. She highlights the review taking place.

Pay and contract reform brought about contractual changes for members across the whole of HMRC, but for members in CSG that meant a start time of no earlier than 7:45am, one late night per week and up to 6 Saturdays per year (subject to business need). When a member can’t work within the confines of the CSG due to domestic or personal circumstances including caring responsibilities and health, the member can apply for a Special Working Arrangement (SWA). 

The SWA process involves the member discussing their circumstances with their manager to investigate if the flexibilities offered by PaCR could address the member’s need; if the need isn’t met the member can submit an SWA for consideration.

SWAs have been the most contentious issue in CSG, with members reporting reasonable adjustments being removed, SWAs being refused for trivial reasons and in some instances no reason at all. Manager members have been reporting the difficulties they have had trying to support members through the process with little guidance to help them.

Throughout this period PCS reps across HMRC have been working tirelessly supporting members with applications and appeals, whilst the PCS negotiating team has been escalating cases to HR and the Employee Relations team for resolution.

The problems, inconsistencies and issues faced by PCS members helped to shape a review of SWAs in CSG.

The review set out to look at the following:

  • identification and resolution of any gaps within the current process
  • test the effectiveness of the comms, guidance and supporting materials
  • assess the confidence and capability of decision makers in a range of scenarios
  • review the role of advisory forums and consider the longer-term approach to governance
  • assess the quality of decision outcomes.

There were several workshops including HRBPs, EAS, FLMs, HO Decision Makers, Panel Chairs and a selection of PCS representatives from the 4 CSG areas.

HMRC’s initial findings suggest that overall the perception is that the process itself works, however there is an acknowledgement that there are issues and concerns regarding management capability.  PCS has, throughout the process, escalated cases that demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of not only the policy but HMRCs legal responsibilities under law, the review comments on the fact that the guidance is at times overwhelming and confusing. 

Additionally, further confusion has been identified in terms of the distinction between SWAs, AWPs, reasonable adjustments and designated home worker status, with managers questioning their roles and responsibilities. Managers identified that some applications lacked enough information for them to make a decision, resulting in an email exchange to extract sufficient information.  Other concerns raised were about a manager’s ability to determine business capacity, and how to decide what the business can accommodate or not, with next steps if the SWA could not be accommodated being unclear.

PCS has raised multiple concerns about the quality of decision makers’ letters. Cases have been escalated where the decision makers’ letter does not articulate the thought process and address what evidence has been considered when making that decision, thus leaving members in the untenable position of not knowing how to appeal. The review has recognised this.

PCS had submitted 17 cases for consideration. We have expressed our disappointment that CSG didn’t consider there were any fundamental issues identified, with the report not providing any deep insight as to how those cases had been reviewed.

PCS is due to meet with CSG again at the end of January. At that point we expect to be presented with a detailed timeframe of when and how the required changes as identified by the review will be implemented. Additionally, PCS will be looking forward to a detailed report on the 17 cases and why CSG considered the decisions in those instances to be sound.

Colette Smith
Assistant group secretary
PT operations lead