Monday, March 25, 2024

Tax office rejects one-in-four calls to fudge waiting time stats

First director faces court over ATO ID scheme breach

Junked business registry overhaul blew out by $2.3b

Tom McIlroyPolitical correspondent

Labor will scrap a signature Morrison government program to consolidate and modernise the nation’s business registries, after a review found the plan was on track to cost as much as $2.8 billion and run five years late.

 Tax office rejects one-in-four calls to fudge waiting time stats

One-in-four Australians who phone the tax office are being connected only to have their calls rejected without the option of joining the queue or agreeing to a callback.

While the Australian Taxation Office publicly reports on average call wait times – one of its key performance measures – it does not publicly report on the number or proportion of calls that are rejected.
The Australian Taxation Office keeps its average call waiting time lower by rejecting one-in-four calls.
The Australian Taxation Office keeps its average call waiting time lower by rejecting one-in-four calls. BETHANY RAE
More than 1 million calls had been rejected already this financial year. And the ATO acknowledged it did so to make the average wait on other calls appear more reasonable – despite already lowering its performance target for 2023-24.
Before being rejected, callers received a recorded message stating “our service is currently experiencing peak demand and we are unable to answer your call at this time”.
In a statement, the ATO said 26 per cent of general inbound calls had been “blocked” this year as a demand management tool. Those calls were not factored into the average wait.
“Call blocking is used reservedly and intermittently to maintain client wait times at acceptable levels that ensures all calls in queue could be answered by the end of each day,” the ATO told this masthead.
“It is important to note that the number of calls blocked does not represent the number of unique clients blocked. When call blocking is applied, clients tend to attempt to call multiple times in quick succession.”
In 2021-22, the ATO met its performance target of general inbound callers waiting “less than 10 minutes” on average. In 2022-23, the average wait blew out to 10 minutes and 49 seconds – prompting the ATO to revise the target to “less than 15 minutes” for this year.
By the end of February, the ATO had answered 3.3 million general inbound calls for an average wait time of 12 minutes and 19 seconds. On that basis, it was on track to meet its new target, but still performing worse than previous years.
“The ATO is experiencing year-on-year increases for telephony and processing workloads and has implemented several strategies to better balance efforts across processing and call workloads,” the ATO said.
The ATO has different performance measures for its handling of calls from tax practitioners. This financial year, to the end of October, 468,630 calls were answered – 10,634 of which were subsequently abandoned by the caller – and none were blocked. The ATO met its target of answering 90 per cent of calls from tax practitioners within two minutes.
The ATO is not the only Commonwealth agency to face criticism for long wait times.
Services Australia, which includes Centrelink and Medicare, reported an average wait time of 33 minutes for the first six months of the financial year. Over that period, 7.4 million calls – roughly one-in-six – made it no further than a congestion message.