PCS in HM Revenue and Customs Group

Covid-19: Where we are in HMRC

Updated 26 May 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 Covid-19 response team.

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.

Following the Prime Minister's speech on 10 May, and the publication of the government's 'Our Plan to Rebuild' document on 11 May, PCS has issued further advice to members, confirming that there has been no substantive change in the government's advice; and that members should carry-on working from home wherever possible.

The union has also reached agreement with HMRC on a series of HR policy changes, which will operate during the Covid-19 crisis, supported by a series of HR 'help cards' and toolkits.

Within the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), PCS has issued guidance to support members dealing with the rigours of isolation, with special concern for members living with domestic abuse.

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 30 April, around 50,000 HMRC staff are working from home.

From the onset, PCS have raised concerns about those (currently around 5,000) 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 has 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. We have made significant progress in this area, and the trial of a home-based telephony system has been proven to be a success; and Monday 18 May will see the overwhelming majority of telephony staff in HMRC, now being able to work from home.

We 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.

PCS have now reached agreement with the department on a "serious incident" protocol, which establishes the various procedures to be adopted where the normal Covid-19 risk mitigations are not fully effective. The union welcomed the fact that, following problems initially arising in Trinity Bridge House in Salford, in the wake of agreement in principle being reached regarding serious incidents, HMRC moved quickly to close two further offices for deep cleaning.

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 has 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 crisis has led to delays in the closure programme as well as the postponement of voluntary redundancy exercises.

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 is also regularly raised in our meetings with the Director of People Policy. 

PCS wrote to the HMRC Chief Executive calling on HMRC to apply the smarter working lessons we have learned from the Covid-19 crisis, to adapt the locations strategy and avoid the need for redundancies. The Chief People Officer responded to confirm that the department was launching a project which will consider whether the department needs to reconsider its position on ‘flexible and remote working. Considering not so very long ago, the HMRC position was that widespread flexible and remote working wasn’t compatible with its delivery model, this is at least a positive sign. PCS have also reminded management that the new Self-employment Income Support Scheme is running ahead of schedule, and is doing so with the staff involved being able to work flexibly and remotely.

PCS has met with the project director and we have already taken the opportunity to provide a submission.

In light of the 'smarter working' project, and PCS having secured a further extension of the 2010 Civil Service Compensation Scheme terms, we have written to HMRC, calling on the department to put on hold, their plans to announce a further round of redundancies in June.

Disappointingly, HMRC’s “current thinking” is to continue with its planned next tranche of redundancies in June, despite the fact that its own project is aimed at identifying whether redundancies are even necessary, and despite assurances PCS centrally have received from the Cabinet Office. We have written urgently to the chief people officer, urging HMRC to reconsider its current thinking, and seeking a meeting on the subject.

Sick leave policy, sick pay and sick pay limitations
PCS was 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
As key workers, HMRC staff who are exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 can now apply for a swab test. PCS has issued advice to members on testing for Covid-19, on 'tracking and tracing' and staying safe.

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; and has agreed 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. We have remained vigilant in an effort to ensure consistency of policy application across the various business streams in the department. Our regular meetings with senior management have meant that inconsistencies such as one area failing to recognise that either HMRC or PCS could trigger the serious incident protocol; and another area suggesting that staff could return to the workplace if they signed a 'disclaimer' regarding their future health, were both swiftly and satisfactorily addressed.

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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