Audit objective, criteria and scope: The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of the Australian Taxation Office’s (ATO’s) complaints and other feedback management systems in supporting service delivery. To form a conclusion against this objective, the ANAO examined if the ATO has:
- well-planned and designed complaints and other feedback management arrangements;
- sound processes to manage complaints and other feedback;
- and effectively analysed complaints and other feedback to inform service delivery.
The focus of the audit was primarily on the ATO’s management of complaints. The ATO’s management of compliments and other feedback was also examined, where possible. The audit did not examine the formal objection process that allows taxpayers to dispute an ATO decision, but did examine the interaction between the objection and complaints management processes.
While complaints represent a client’s expression of dissatisfaction with an agency’s administration, effective complaints handling can help to restore good relations with the client and inform processes to strengthen administration and reduce costs. As a major Australian Government agency that deals with many millions of clients, the ATO receives a considerable amount of client feedback—around 27 000 complaints and 4000 compliments and other items of feedback in 2012‒13. The significant increase in the number of complaints received in the three years from 2009–10, averaging over 42 000 for that period, contributed to a marked decline in client satisfaction with the complaints handling processes in 2011‒12. The Community Perceptions Survey (July 2012) and Professionalism Survey (May 2012) both identified complaints handling as an area requiring improvement.
Avoiding spikes in complaint numbers, or better still reducing the total number of complaints, requires the ATO to proactively address issues that can give rise to complaints. In addition to declining client satisfaction, increases in complaint numbers are costly to manage. In the absence of ATO analysis, the ANAO estimated that, if the number of complaints in that year had been the same as in 2010–11, the ATO would have incurred additional employee costs in the order of $8 million to manage the workload. Accordingly, it is important that the ATO puts in place strategies to minimise complaints occurring in the first place, particularly when major business and process changes are being implemented and for the annual tax time.
The ATO’s complaints handling framework is well-designed and its management arrangements are generally sound. The complaints reengineering project has strengthened complaints handling, and there has been a rebound in client satisfaction and community perceptions in the 2013 surveys. Nevertheless, opportunities remain to more fully address the principles of fairness, accessibility, responsiveness, integration and efficiency outlined in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Better Practice Guide to Complaint Handling. There are also opportunities to improve complaints handling practices, including better understanding of issues which were the subject of complaints and the needs of complainants. In addition, there is scope for the ATO to: improve reporting against complaints handling timeliness measures, and to develop other performance measures; implement a more coherent agency-wide quality assurance framework for complaints and other feedback; and limit sensitive information about named officer complaints from being included in records on the ATO’s client relationship management computer system, and implement measures to periodically check that ATO officers have not accessed these records inappropriately.
In addition, while there have been instances where the ATO has used complaints intelligence to address systemic issues that give rise to complaints, there is scope for it to better use intelligence from client feedback to more actively inform service delivery and improve efficiency. This includes developing strategies to minimise complaints occurring in the first place and better managing taxpayer’s expectations by keeping them informed throughout their dealings with the ATO.
The ANAO has made three recommendations aimed at improving the ATO’s handling of complaints and its monitoring and reporting of performance in managing complaints.