Several thousand employees at the U.K. tax authority will continue to work from the office during the coronavirus outbreak to maintain normal services, chief executive Jim Harra said Wednesday.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will maintain about 8%-9% of its workers at the office, Harra told the U.K.’s Treasury Select Committee in a video conference. The tax office reported that it had about 65,000 workers as of March 31.
Because of safety procedures the government put in place, only under 0.7% of HMRC staff was absent because of coronavirus symptoms, Harra said.
“My first priority is to keep my colleagues safe and to make sure they have a safe working environment, and that’s particularly for the roughly 8 or 9% of colleagues who have to come into the office in order to provide services to our customers,” he said.
A public sector union spokesman said members were working closely with HMRC “to agree joint protocols on how to deal with potential Covid-19 cases at offices. We are also in discussions regarding a new system that would allow telephony equipment to be operated from home by staff.”
Harra said HMRC may not be able to respond immediately to non-urgent tax issues in the coming weeks as it shifts its focus to processing applications for the government’s job retention program.
“I do expect that in the third week in April, because my priority will be the job retention scheme, that I will have to pull colleagues off those other services and ask customers to only contact us during those weeks if it’s absolutely essential to get immediate help,” he said.
The program guarantees up to 80% of an employee’s wages if they are furloughed by their company rather than let go.