Date posted: 23/01/2018 5 min read

Tax agents still least happy with ATO service

The ATO scores high on integrity but lower on service and technology in its latest survey, which shows little improvement in community perceptions.

In Brief

  • Only two-thirds of tax agents are satisfied with ATO services
  • SMEs are the most satisfied of ATO customer groups.
  • The ATO gets best marks for “acting with integrity”.

Surveys conducted for the Australian Tax Office suggest the ATO has made little or no progress on convincing taxpayers of its integrity, its application of the law and its openness and accountability over the past three years.

And taxpayers are increasingly questioning the ATO’s technology use, the survey data suggests.

Survey respondents in the business community who agree that “the ATO is technologically up-to-date” fell sharply in numbers from 62% in the 2014-15 survey to just 49% in 2016-17. Amongst the general public, the same figure also dropped from 61% to 51%.

On top of this, surveys of tax agents show no sign of improvement in their perceptions of the ATO. But slightly more people are confident in the ATO’s responsiveness to feedback, the data suggests.

Just 67% of the 243 tax agents and 71% of 217 BAS agents surveyed were “satisfied” with ATO customer service quality in 2016-17

Data from the latest Corporate Perceptions Survey of the ATO for 2016-17 was quietly released onto the ATO website late last year. Like others conducted in 2014-15 and 2015-16, the survey was carried out by  global research agency Kantar Milward Brown. The latest survey involved telephone interviews with 3956 respondents between August 2016 and July 2017; covering customers who had a recent service experience with the ATO and the wider Australian general public and business communities. It took in individuals, micro-businesses, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), large businesses, tax agents and BAS agents.

None of the survey reports provided data from previous periods; Acuity has compiled its own time series by combining data from three successive reports.

Kantar Milward Brown says that in 2016-17, SMEs were the most satisfied of the ATO’s customer groups.

On the other hand, it says that “tax agents held the least favourable perceptions of the ATO’s likely responsiveness, and being technologically up to date, of any group”. Just 67% of the 243 tax agents and 71% of 217 BAS agents surveyed were “satisfied” with ATO customer service quality in 2016-17. (Because these sample groups were small, margins of error were large – around +/-6.5%.)

(Source: ATO Corporate Perceptions Surveys 2016-17)

Jordan's vision for the ATO

Recent contact with the ATO makes people more likely to see the ATO positively – unless the people involved are tax agents, reports Kantar Milward Brown. “General public and wider business community perceptions were poorer than those of customers who had recent contact with the ATO,” its report says.

However, there are few signs that recent customer contact is improving perceptions of the ATO more than it used to. And there is little evidence that recent attempts to improve customer service are paying off.

In an interview with Acuity to be published in February, Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan tells Acuity that his vision of the ATO is for it to be “a leading tax authority known for its contemporary service, expertise and integrity”. “We’ve come a long a way on that contemporary service side,” Jordan says. “Everything used to be a letter or a phone call to a contact centre. We now – particularly for small business – have a vast array, a multitude, of methods of communication, from virtual assistants to after-hours callback services, to visits, to newsrooms, all sorts of things.”

Jordan also says in the Acuity interview that the ATO’s relationship with tax agents continues to concern him, but also that “it’s a difficult segment to satisfy”.

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Among the ATO’s different channels, the survey finds the ATO’s most satisfied customers tend to be those who use its shopfronts; the least satisfied are those who use its website or app or write a letter.

Survey respondents were very likely to say that they were treated respectfully and courteously by the ATO (89%) and informed of what they need to do (80%). However, far fewer say the ATO is responsive to feedback (55%) and keeps them informed about their status, delays or issues (56%). None of these categories has changed substantially over the three years.

(Source: ATO Corporate Perceptions Surveys 2016-17)

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