Stressed tax staff get ‘therapet’ sessions

STRESSED tax workers in the Capital have been given the chance to cuddle and stroke dogs in a bid to boost their happiness.

A similar exercise saw Rocco the dog help students at Queen Margaret University fight off stress. Picture: Craig Bennett/Hemedia

Employees of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) were visited last month by the “therapet” service from the Canine Concern Scotland Trust (CCST).

A 45-minute session saw about 40 staff at Elgin House de-stress with a border collie and a golden retriever.

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Bosses at HMRC said the service – which was offered for free – was a one-off and did not reduce productivity.

HMRC – which also had the self-assessment advertising line “Tax doesn’t have to be taxing” – is thought to be the first government agency in Scotland to try the therapet idea.

It was first piloted at Edinburgh University in 2013 and, in September, Queen Margaret University gained its own resident therapet – a labradoodle named Rocco.

Douglas Ruthven, from the CCST charity, said: “This is the first office therapet session I have done. Staff at the Edinburgh tax office were interested in hearing more about the service, but the main part of it was spending time with the dogs. I think they are keen to have more sessions in the future.

“I’ve also had informal contacts from people working in call centres who say this service would be ideal for them, too. They are pretty stressful places to work in and I think it would help workers.”

A spokesman for HMRC said they had to ensure staff wellbeing, adding: “This one-off visit organised between the local office and the charity is an example of that. There was no cost to HMRC. Business needs are always paramount, the business was not affected. Things did not grind to a halt for the benefit of therapets.”

But Jonathan Isaby, chief executive at TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers who sit on hold for over an hour while trying to contact the taxman will wonder whether this is the best use of staff time. The top brass must look at ways to drastically improve productivity, and stroking dogs wouldn’t be at the top of the list of recommendations.”

Last week, the House of Commons public accounts committee said HMRC was performing so badly that there was a “genuine threat to tax collection”.

The government agency was accused of not answering half of calls from customers and not prosecuting enough offenders. Three-quarters of calls were answered the previous year, said the report.