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Tax needn't be taxing, according to the television adverts for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs service.

But it could become more difficult if plans to close nearly 300 walk-in tax advice offices and endanger 1,300 jobs go ahead. About a third of a million people use the service every year.

The North East has also been chosen as a guinea pig to test whether face to face services through the enquiry centre network can be replaced by a 'tailored' telephone service. People would phone a contact centre which vets them before referring to another adviser.

Mobile teams could meet people in local libraries.

The Public and Commercial Services union, whose members are affected, has many serious concerns about the proposed change.

It fears that the experiment in the North East won't be based on sound evidence because our region has fewer people with particular problems than nationwide.

It says that the economic case has been exaggerated. It will cost more than it saves as it could reduce the tax take.

It could impact badly on pensioners, people on low incomes, migrant workers and disabled people. More taxpayers could get lumbered with the wrong tax code and face financial difficulties because they are not getting correct information about their tax credits.

Many people who rely on face to face advice may struggle with or avoid using internet and telephone services. This includes older people on the wrong side of the digital divide and those who speak English as a second language

I will carefully monitor the North East pilot scheme before the debate about whether it should be extended nationwide.

Some people need direct help to pay the correct taxes. I just wish that big multinational companies did that already and reduced the need for public spending cuts
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