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IRD hopes website failures, disconnected calls won't be repeated next year

Wednesday 1st August 2018

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Inland Revenue's commissioner says it will try to avoid this year's series of failures in its online MyIR system and hundreds of thousands of cut-off calls next year, when it implements automatic tax refunds for the first time.

The tax collector disconnected 45 percent of calls made to it - 286,392 calls out of 630,921 - in June, with another 79,621 callers hanging up themselves while waiting to reach the customer service team, according to an Official Information Act request published by Stuff. That was ahead of the July 7 due date for filing income tax returns. 

Commissioner Naomi Ferguson, who has held the role since July 2012, told Parliament's finance and expenditure select committee this morning that Inland Revenue had had seven significant issues with MyIR over 10 days in June. Some of those outages meant the system was completely offline, while some made the system slower or presented users with a corrupted and unusable webpage, she said. 

"Between June and July we had 6.8 million uses of the MyIR system, that's the kind of volume it manages. When it is offline for even an hour, that has a significant impact," Ferguson said. "Since the 27th of June, the fixes we've put in place have been managing that. 

"It isn't acceptable, and it's something we will continue to work on, and look to learn from this year for next year."

Ferguson said most taxpayers now contact IRD online, and the call centres are "overflow", so when web services fail "it immediately impacts into call centres."

Nearly 3,000 IRD staff today went on strike for four hours, following earlier two hour strikes on July 9 and July 23 over poor pay. IRD staff were originally striking alongside workers at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), but MBIE has resumed pay negotiations. 

Ferguson said the Best Start tax credit, which striking workers have cited as a drastic increase on their workload pushing them to industrial action, "wasn't a huge part" of IRD's service failures, but accepted that the worker strikes "will have had some impact on volumes of calls that we could handle during those periods."

Changes to tax law, which were tabled at the end of June and are currently being considered by select committee, would remove the need for individuals to file a personal tax summary (PTS) to get a tax refund. Some 750,000 people currently miss out on their tax refunds every year due to not filing. 

Ferguson said she would like next year to be "a very different customer experience."

"It will be a high period of change, and I'm conscious of that. It's a great thing to say we'll automatically issue refunds, but I know we'll get calls from people saying 'why haven't I had my refund?'. We have to expect there will be quite a lot of demand, that's what we're planning for, and we will work to maintain the stability of the web services and work with PTS agents."

The tax department is currently undergoing a business transformation programme to modernise the tax system. The second stage of changes under this programme, implemented in April, were targeted at making it easier for businesses to manage their income tax online. 


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