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Monday, 3 March 2003
Page: 12062

Mr Bevis asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 15 May 2002:

(1) What criteria are followed by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) in determining which ATO Access sites should be maintained or closed.

(2) What criteria are applied in determining the provision of ATO Access sites in (a) regional and (b) metropolitan areas.

(3) What is the reason for differential treatment in determining ATO Access sites for regional and metropolitan areas.

(4) What is the average cost to the ATO per inquiry of answering a (a) telephone and (b) counter inquiry.

(5) How is the service provided by the personal tax phone service different to the service available over the counter.

(6) Is the personal tax phone service regarded as inferior to the counter service; if so, why does the ATO use different criteria for determining the location of counter services in regional Australia compared with metropolitan areas.

(7) What action has he taken to ensure all Australians have equal access to ATO inquiry services.

Mr Costello (Treasurer) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) uses the following criteria in determining which ATO Access sites should be maintained or closed:

Criteria are as follows:

· Minimise the impact on regional ATO access sites in recognition that the community and ATO staff have limited options in these areas.

· Level of client demand.

· Comparative accessibility to key transport routes in metropolitan areas.

(2) and (3) In both regional and metropolitan areas the ATO seek to provide cost effective access to clients. Apart from the higher population density and demand for services in metropolitan areas there is no differential treatment in determining ATO access sites in regional and metropolitan areas.

(4) The cost of answering a personal telephone enquiry in the 2000/01 year was $5.09 compared to $17.23 for a counter enquiry.

(5) The Personal Tax business line phone service acts as one of the primary points of contact for individual clients. ATO officers answer questions and solve individual client problems relating to the completion of individual taxation returns, and also act as a referral point to other specialised areas of the office. They also deal with a wide variety of tax technical and procedural issues.

ATO clients can order forms and information publication over the phone and a 24 hour automated service is available that allows clients to check on the progress of their tax returns.

ATO access centres are designed to provide a range of services which include ATO publications and forms, ATO link phones (connected to a range of general and specialist phone services) and access to the ATO's Internet site. These strategies are designed to encourage taxpayers to resolve queries by phone or via self help facilities when they visit an ATO access centre.

(6) The phone service work is not regarded as an inferior service to the counter service. Both the phone and counter services are part of overall service strategies for individuals.

The ATO phone service can be accessed throughout Australia for the cost of a local phone call. The ATO encourages taxpayers to use the service as frequently as they wish as the ATO has found that many taxpayer issues can be resolved over the phone.

ATO access sites have been progressively redesigned to encourage self help using services such as link, print, assist and interviews by appointment if required.

The Personal Tax business line also offers tailored service to those most in need of support through its community based Tax Help program. In particular, the Tax Help program targets low-income earners which includes Senior Australians. These services are located throughout Australia.

(7) The ATO's goal is to provide taxpayers with equitable service regardless of where they live, using the most efficient service methods available.

The ATO encourages taxpayers to use their phone services as they can be accessed across Australia for the cost of a local phone call.

The Personal Tax business line offers a range of services to the community including self help products (for example, e-tax), telephone services (advice and publication ordering service), community based help to the more vulnerable members of the community (Tax Help program), schools program and face-to-face (ATO access facilities in selected locations).

In some cases people will prefer face-to-face contact which can be provided through either ATO access centres or other programs.

An increasing proportion of taxpayers get their information through ATO helplines, publications, website, document fax service and tax professionals. In the 2002/03 year up to 4.2 million calls will be dealt with in the Personal Tax business line of the ATO.