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Majority of ATO complaints stem from IT problems

by Sam Murphy •
Free resource

Complaints made against the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) rise every time the Agency implements a new system, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has found. 

The ANAO report states that in 2012-13 the ATO received 16,135 complaints, well down from the average of 36,000 complaints annually for the last five years. While it experienced “a significant increase” between 2009-10 and 2011-12, the amount of complaints received has declined over the last two financial years.  

Despite the improvement in the number of complaints received, the ANAO indicated that still more can be done including, “addressing systematic issues that give rise to complaints.”

“Examination of complaints data indicates that complaints have increased during ‘tax time’ each year and when major systems or process changes are implemented”, the Report states.

The key complaints received by the ATO are all IT related and due to automation or processing errors. During tax time in 2011, the ATO received a large amount of complaints regarding the Income Tax Refund Integrity (ITRI) program, which automatically stopped refunds being issued if there was a chance of fraud. In dealing with the complaints, the ATO had to readjust the risk assessment model within the system and improve scripting for front-line staff. 

In 2012-13 the prime complaint was ‘Australian Business Number (ABN) not received’ with 2703 complaints received. Users also complained about not receiving their tax file number and having their ABN application cancelled. This was put down to an issue with the registration system, which is currently being developed by Accenture under a $40.2 million contract. The scope of the contract was to design, build, test and implement services for the MR4 Client Register Project.

The project aims to integrate numerous systems into a single client register that links to the Australian Business Register. The Department’s client register system deals with online, phone, paper and face-to-face client interactions including taxpayer records and tax file number registrations.

In July 2013, there were issues with the launch of the ATO’s tax application for mac. The $5.2 million application initially prevented users from installing it due to an error. The error arose from the ATO not providing a a digital certificate which allowed the application to be installed on Apple products. It took four days for the issue to be identified and rectified.

The ANAO recommends that the ATO “implements an agency-wide quality assurance framework for complaints and other feedback that provides results at an agency-wide and individual business and service line level”. This includes using complaints intelligence “to address systemic issues”.

The ATO is currently undertaking a Complaints and Compliments Re-engineering Project which aims to “to develop a process for sharing intelligence and raising emerging issues with stakeholders to prevent recurring complaints”. The ATO will make system and template improvements as well as develop a broader enterprise feedback system as part of the project.  

According to its 2012-13 Annual Report, the ATO IT environment consists of over 600 systems. Its 2011-12 Annual Report estimates that the Agency completed an average of 3.8 million transactions daily and around 1.4 billion annually.


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For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

  • Federal
  • IT Services
  • Treasury
  • Accenture
  • Australian National Audit Office (ANAO)
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Complaints and Compliments Re-engineering Project
  • MR4 Client Register Project
  • tax system