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On-site services hard to shake, even in the digital world

by David Shi and Paris Cowan •
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Just three percent of taxpayers are driving the continuation of face-to-face client transactions with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), estimated by the Office to be the most expensive type of transaction it conducts.

The ATO currently engages members of the Australian community through four service channels:

  1. online;
  2. telephone;
  3. mail and fax;
  4. in person (at one of 18 shop fronts).

A recent review of ATO shop fronts conducted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has recommended that the ATO gain a comprehensive understanding of shopfront usage, to see whether opportunities to transfer these users to other channels exist.

It has also recommended that the ATO look into alternative delivery models to replace the shopfronts.

In April 2010, the ATO conducted a survey to establish who made up the three percent entering its shop fronts.

“These clients were identified as people who are not comfortable with other forms of communication with the ATO, or who believe that they are required to visit in person to obtain assistance. Within this group, migrants from a non-English speaking background and older Australians are highly represented,” said the ANAO report.

In order to fulfil community expectations, the ATO is seeking to transition from traditional face-to-face services to cheaper and more efficient online services. The use of online services bypasses the traditional difficulties presented with on-site ATO shopfronts, including geographical difficulties and limited operating hours.

“On‐site services, such as those delivered through shopfronts, may provide a more personalised environment, but are generally the most expensive means of delivering a service, are accessible by only the small proportion of ATO clientele living or working in their immediate vicinity, and, only being available during normal business hours, do not provide the flexibility or range of services available through on‐line options,” said the report

The ATO’s strategic direction for its service delivery aims to boost on-line and on-call services, as outlined in the agency’s Channel Strategy 2008-2012. Through the use of web-based options and services, the ATO hopes to maximise efficiency and minimise the cost of service delivery, particularly on-site costs.

The transition away from costly and inflexible on-site services is a struggle that is being faced across government and the financial services sector, with insurer AAMI announcing on 4 June 2011 that it would shut all 24 of its shop fronts.

The Federal Government’s National Digital Economy Strategy aims to have 80 percent of Australians accessing government services over the internet by 2020.

A 2009 survey of the satisfaction with eGovernment in Australia reveals that the majority of Australians prefer to contact government agencies via internet rather than other service delivery channels. The study also showed that the internet is the most widely used method of contacting government agencies for those aged 55‐64.

The audit report can be viewed on the ANAO’s website.


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