Tax preparers and individuals are complaining that many calls to the Canada Revenue Agency’s enquiries line are being met with a busy signal.
Getting through to the Canada Revenue Agency by phone can still be a challenge despite the Liberal government’s campaign promise to overhaul the agency’s service model and make it “fairer, more helpful and easier to use.”
Preparers and individual filers complain that many calls to the agency’s general enquiries line are met with a busy signal, although some land at a phone menu system that offers recorded messages about tax topics and the opportunity to connect with an agent.
Figures tabled in Parliament last summer showed nearly seven in every 10 callers were greeted by the signal in the 2014-15 fiscal years, indicating that call volumes had pushed the system to capacity.
“I can’t believe they don’t put callers on hold,” said one post on an Internet chat board. “Compared to a busy signal, being on hold would be great.”
The data show that of the 12.8 million calls between March 30 and May 1 a busy signal greeted almost four in every five calls.
The CRA did not respond to a request to comment on the situation.
Wait times are supposed to be two minutes, which the CRA meets about 81 per cent of the time, according to the figures tabled in response to an order paper question from Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.
Goodale said the figures show that budget cuts at the CRA, including decreases in front-line staff to handle inquiries, have eroded its ability to meet service standards.
The funding to the CRA’s taxpayer’s services, for instance, has been cut by about 24 per cent over the 2012-13 and 2015-16 fiscal years leading to an equivalent reduction in the number of staff, government documents say.
Goodale said the government needs to revisit its CRA budget cuts and review the technology used to answer citizen queries to improve service standards.
The CRA in its 2014-15 performance report to Parliament said it experienced a significant increase in call volumes due to factors including the extension of the 2014 filing season and a new online mail service.
It said a contact centre transformation initiative is underway to “improve our capacity to respond to high volumes of telephone enquiries by modernizing call centres to expand beyond voice-based services.”
The CRA said it is streamlining its business interactive voice response system to make it easier for callers to connect with an agent and encouraging people to use Smartlinks to contact a service agent via the agency website.
“Over the long term, the contact centre transformation will enhance telephone services for taxpayers by giving the CRA access to new and improved functions,” the report said.
In April 2014, the CRA said it established a team to “oversee and coordinate the migration of the existing 79 CRA contact centres so that everyone who interacts with the CRA is treated like a valued person, not just a taxpayer.”
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the tax community is looking to the pending federal budget for information on CRA customer service improvements. He suggested the agency could use additional contract workers over the tax season to ease the load on its phone system.
“We have no update,” on the phone service performance figures tabled in Parliament in June, added a spokesperson for the Union of Taxation Employees, which represents about 27 000 CRA employees, and “don’t expect any until the budget comes down.”