Customs is preparing to introduce a groundbreaking telephone hotline to deal with enquiries under the as-yet unannounced new structure. It is being piloted in the South-West of England and will mean taxpayers or their representatives wanting information will call a single national hotline number and be diverted to the nearest of a national network of call centres.The centralisation of the service is expected to result in six regional call centres for general inquiries, probably based in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, Plymouth and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.Specialist offices - such as the air passenger duty office in Uxbridge and the insurance premium tax office in the City of London will continue to handle specialist enquiries.Customs' is also looking to develop Internet services that will benefit the taxpayers who only need to make contact occasionally, for example to deliver quarterly VAT returns. Prime minister Tony Blair has set a target for 25% of transactions with government should be capable of being done electronically by 2002. A live pilot for the electronic VAT return system has is taking place between 1999 and 2000 and forms a major part of plans to centralise the Customs & Excise service.'It cannot come soon enough from our point of view. It's certainly something we will do,' a Customs official told Accountnacy Age. 'It is just a matter of when and how. But is likely to happen in the next financial year.'Rationalisation, while welcomed by many accountants and businesses, has met with scepticism from some practitioners.
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