ATO hired extra staff for Change Program complaints

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ATO hired extra staff for Change Program complaints

Public dissatisfied with results of technology overhaul.

Complaints accounted for more than 93 percent of public feedback received by the Australian Taxation Office about its 2010 technology implementations, the agency has revealed.

The ATO began deploying its new income tax system during the Australia Day weekend in January, completing that last phase of the Change Program on June 30, 2010.

Last week, the Commonwealth Ombudsman reported having received 195 complaints relating to the ATO's $720 million Change Program between July 2009 and June 2010.

An ATO spokesman told iTnews that it had directly received 40,665 complaints, 338 formal compliments and 2,714 other items of feedback about the program during that period.

Forty percent of those complaints related to processing issues, where an income tax return had not been processed within the ATO's service standard.

Fifteen percent were to do with cheques or refunds that were "issued but not received". In April, a "printing problem" resulted in 140,000 tax refunds being issued without cheques.

"To deal with complaint numbers from February to June 2010, the ATO deployed significant extra resources and resolved 23,819 complaints during this period," the spokesman said.

The agency took on board the Commonwealth Ombudsman's recommendation that it improve internal and external communications about identified problems and workarounds.

The ATO claimed to have made "considerable efforts to communicate to community and stakeholders" prior to, during, and following the deployment of the income tax system through its website, media, industry groups, and other direct communication channels.

"However, there is always room to improve and we will continue striving to communicate to the community and stakeholders as effectively as possible and improve where we can," the spokesman said.

The Ombudsman's report also identified issues with automatically generated decisions that resulted in erroneous results for 16,000 taxpayers.

Those decision-making mechanisms were used for a range of transactions that included income tax, superannuation, and activity statements, the ATO spokesman explained.

"In the year ended 30 June 2010, the ATO processed over 17 million electronic payments, over 39 million forms, 2.3 million e-tax lodgements, over million taxpayer accounts and over 14.5 million transactions through web portals," he said.

"The Change Program has itself resulted in many improvements associated with automatic transactions through systems that are better integrated, flexible and easier to change."

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