OTTAWA— Les Couchi didn’t need the auditor general to tell him that the Canada Revenue Agency is ignoring millions of phone calls from Canadian taxpayers. He learned that firsthand after his own phone calls to the agency’s call centres this week were met with busy signals or frustrating “merry-go-round” on its automated answering service. “Just totally frustrated with these people,” the North Bay resident told the Star Tuesday. Couchi, who was trying to ask a question about a reassessment, finally got through but it took persistence.
He’s not alone.
In a damning
Tuesday, the auditor general revealed that millions of telephone calls are going unanswered — some two-thirds of all calls — because the Canada Revenue Agency is unable to handle the high call volumes.
When it does answer, tax agency employees too often provide wrong information, the auditor general says in a report released Tuesday. “We found that the Canada Revenue Agency gave taxpayers very limited access to its call centre services,” the report said.
Between March 2016 and March 2017, individuals and businesses made more than 53.5 million telephone calls to the agency’s call centres. But more than half — about 29 million — were “blocked” and not answered by an agent or the automated self-service system. Instead, they got a busy signal or got a message telling them to go the website or call back later.
Each caller made an average of three or four calls a week attempting to get through and even then, weren’t always successful, the report found. Three-quarters of those who reached the self-service system hung up before even listening to the main menu.
The agency claimed that callers would rather get a busy signal or an automated message rather than wait long to speak with an agent, an assertion challenged by the auditor general. “The agency had not surveyed callers to verify this assumption,” the report said.
The auditor general revealed problems even when calls were answered.
In 255 test calls by audit staff, Canada Revenue Agency employees gave incorrect information 30 per cent of the time.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier blamed Conservatives cuts for the problems suffered by the CRA today. But she said the agency was making investments to improve services, including a new telephone system by 2019 that will provide callers with estimated hold time and be able to transfer calls to the next available agent, no matter where they are in the country.
“We will be able to answer more calls. . . . This new technology will prevent our customers from getting a busy signal,” she told reporters after the report’s release. The agency has seen calls increase by 27 per cent since 2012-13 and has added 23 per cent more agents — to 2,482 — in an attempt to keep up.
The auditor general also found that the Canada Revenue Agency has tried to gloss over the problem and make its performance “look better than it really is” in public reports, in part by failing to account for the millions of unanswered calls.
Instead, the performance of Canada’s tax agency responding to queries lags far behind the experience in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, which all handle calls in a more timely fashion, the report said.
“Taxpayers need timely access to accurate information to help them prepare their tax returns and to ensure that their benefits are correct,” the report said.
While the Canada Revenue Agency may be unavailable to answer your questions, Trowbridge is always happy to discuss your tax filing requirements. Our philosophy is that you should be able to understand your tax situation.
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