PCS in HM Revenue and Customs Group

Covid-19: Where we are in HMRC

Updated 31 March 2020

On this page you find details of some of the issues being taken forward by PCS in HMRC, and an update on both progress and outstanding concerns being raised. If you still have any questions, you can email the revenue and customs group office at RCGroup@pcs.org.uk.

Vulnerable and extremely vulnerable groups

The department has recognised that members in vulnerable and extremely vulnerable groups should not be in work.

PCS engagement with HMRC and general advice to members

PCS has continued to engage with the department centrally and report back regularly to members.

We have argued for greater safety assurances for everyone, as well as reminding members of the central advice already issued by HMRC. At the onset we set out the fundamental steps we believe the department needs to take, and have continued to press on these issues.

Staff compelled to come into work

Significant progress has been made on members working from home, and the department has informed PCS that, as of 26 March, around 49,000 HMRC staff are working from home.

From the onset, PCS have raised concerns about those (currently around 7,000) staff, chiefly but not solely telephony staff, who are being required to come into work, on the grounds that the department considers their work to be essential and cannot be undertaken at home.

PCS have called upon the department to examine all these posts, and to explore alternatives ways of working, to allow this work to be undertaken outside the office. We continue to argue that the use of webchat, i-forms etc., will allow for more homeworking, and with it, safer conditions for our members. Some parts of the department are actively exploring these alternative methods, including trialling home-based telephony; whilst other areas insist on working as if it was ‘business as usual’, leaving those members understandably feeling like their wellbeing is of lesser consequence. We raised this again on 26 March, at a meeting with the Director of People Policy.

PCS are particularly concerned at the news that one area of the department is preparing to ask staff who are currently working from home, to undertake different duties; and that these new duties can only be undertaken in the office - having the effect of reversing the government instruction that you should "work from home if you can". We have raised this with the department, and argued that the direction of travel should be for the department to increase the number of staff working from home, not adding to the requirement for office-based working.

PCS have also called for risk assessments to be undertaken for all teams, to ensure that all staff who can and should work from home are doing so; and where staff are in the office, appropriate measures are in place to safeguard their wellbeing. This includes seeking an agreed procedure should positive cases of Covid-19 be confirmed in the workplace. Nationally, in our meetings with the Cabinet Office, PCS have demanded that where there are confirmed cases of Covid-19, the office should be immediately closed for deep-cleaning; and members should only be expected to return once a proper risk assessment confirms it is safe to do so.

The department has agreed that there will be ongoing consultation between building responsible managers/senior responsible managers and PCS safety representatives, to ensure that there is proper health and safety cover in each workplace where staff are currently required to come in to the office.

Office closures

PCS have repeatedly called on the department to at least pause its office closure plans, given the increased pressures brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

The short-sighted folly of the department’s ‘Building Our Future’ plans has been clearly illustrated by the fact that HMRC are currently relying on staff in offices that are on the verge of closing, to continue to deliver its services to the public. This was also raised in our meeting with the Director of People Policy.

The department’s current position is that they are continuing with their plans to close the overwhelming majority of its estate.

Sick leave policy, sick pay and sick pay limitations

PCS were able to reach very early agreement with HMRC on this point. We have received assurances that absences due to the Covid-19 crisis will not count against members’ sick records or sick pay levels.

We have called on HMRC to press all their contractors to do the same, because if on-site contractors feel compelled to come in when they are unwell, as they won’t get paid if they don’t, they could undo any good work being done through reducing the number of staff working from the office etc. As yet HMRC have been unwilling to do this.

School closures and childcare

Following lengthy discussions, and complications cause by some local authorities implementing their own priorities amongst ‘key workers’, agreement has been reached that if you have to stay at home to take care of your children because your children need supervision, and you cannot work at home, then you will be granted special leave.

General health and safety issues

PCS have continued to negotiate with the department on general health and safety issues arising from the Covid-19 crisis, such as compliance with display screen equipment (DSE) regulations when working from home, and dealing with issues arising from isolation.

We are continuing to press on these issues, and the department has advised us that they are in the process of addressing the additional equipment required to meet the DSE regulations for those working from home.

We continue to issue advice and guidance to members on these matters, and the department is committed to consulting your local safety representatives.

Handling meetings and visits

Since it’s been agreed that if it is possible to work from home, that you should work from home, HMRC and PCS have agreed that members should cancel or postpone any non-business critical meetings to customers’ premises; by putting additional emphasis on the use of MS Teams etc., to avoid the need for travel and physical interaction at those meetings.

Shared facilities/hot-desking

The department has agreed that there should be no sharing of headsets by telephony staff; but has yet to move to the PCS position that there should be no hot-desking during the current Covid-19 crisis.

Keeping in touch vs Micro-management

PCS and HMRC have agreed that to avoid social isolation, it is important to keep in touch with staff working from home; but that this should not extend to ‘micro-management’: such as constant emails or phone calls from managers, asking for updates on work.

Other issues

There are a number of other issues related to the department’s response to Covid-19, which are being taken forward by PCS. These include the current lack of consistency of policy application across the various business streams.

If you come across an issue where you don’t think that the central policy is being applied, contact your local PCS branch. If it cannot be resolved locally, PCS will pursue the matter first through the line of business command and, if that fails, through the department’s central management.

Look out for updates

Don’t forget to keep in touch with PCS updates on Covid-19 through the Latest News pages of this section of the PCS website. You should also look out for national guidance on Covid-19, in the national News section of the PCS website.

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