The government said today that it is to axe 13 tax offices in the north-east, which will deny face-to-face support for people needing help and advice.
Civil Service union PCS fears that the move is a forerunner to the closure of all of Britain's 281 tax enquiry centres, cutting off vital help and advice to pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers.
HM Revenue and Customs says the 13 inquiry centres will close between June and September this year, with a consultation on the future of the whole network already under way.
Staff have been told it is "highly likely" that all the offices will close and PCS officials believe that the government wants to shift the work into call centres.
The union said that HMRC has already faced severe criticism over delays in answering telephone enquiries.
In December the National Audit Office reported that 20 million calls to HMRC enquiry lines went unanswered in 2011/2012.
It estimated that the public spent £33m in call charges while on hold and that the value of their time in the queue came to £103m.
The union has been told market researchers calling on behalf of HMRC have asked whether taxpayers would prefer to deal with the department "by phone, post or online."
When told they would like to speak to somebody in person, the researchers said that this was not a valid option.
As a result, the PCS fears that biased research has been presented to ministers to secure agreement to the closures, overturning a previous ministerial commitment to maintain local offices.
The union is urging members of the public to take part in HMRC's consultation, which ends on May 24, and to write to their MPs.
PCS lead negotiator for tax workers Alwyn Mason said: "Closing enquiry centres breaks the link between local people and their tax office.
"HMRC will no longer be accountable to the public. In place of the face-to-face service they will offer an inferior telephone service.
"Any support given will be second rate and rely upon later updating of records, rather than providing the real-time support currently needed by some of the most vulnerable in our society."
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