Businesses disappointed with Revenue Canada service levels

Revenue Canada’s service levels have deteriorated, and its agents often cannot provide Canadian firms adequate and pertinent tax information, a recent nationwide survey reveals.

The 2008 survey – conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) – polled 8,271 business owners and 472 tax practitioners.

Results show business operators had a hard time contacting Revenue Canada via any channel – phone, the Internet or mail.

And when they did get through, they often found the agent lacked the required knowledgeable or expertise.

The CFIB, reacting to the survey results, has sought greater accountability and improved service quality from Revenue Canada.

The survey findings reveal a deterioration in overall service levels over the years, according to Garth Whyte, executive vice-president of CFIB.

The CFIB is a non-profit organization representing more than 105,000 small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) across Canada. The organization conducts a survey of its members every four years and seeks Revenue Canada’s help in forming poll questions, said Whyte.

While Revenue Canada got favourable marks for its Web site and electronic services, overall poll results point to a downward trend in quality of service.

Only 11 per cent of business owners indicated receiving better service from Revenue Canada during the past three years. These were the same numbers obtained in the 2004 survey.

Nineteen per cent (up from 13 per cent in 2004) of business owners state services have worsened, while 60 per cent (down from 62 per cent in 2004) saw no major change during the past three years.

Whyte said what’s more troubling are the views expressed from tax-practitioner members of the CFIB.

Fifty two per cent (up from 25 per cent in 2004) of this group feel Revenue Canada’s performance has worsened in the past three years.

Only 18 per cent (down from 27 per cent in 2004) found the situation better. Twenty nine per cent (down from 47 per cent in 2004) said the service was the same.

Around 52 per cent of the tax practitioners indicated they could not get hold of a CRA agent when they contacted the agency. When they did get in touch with a representative, at least 42 per cent found the person unable to give them the information they needed.

When contacted, the CRA did not have a response to specific details addressed by the survey.

However, its spokesperson said the revenue agency has taken steps to consult with businesses and map out plans to improve service.

A Revenue Canada Action Task Force is working with the private sector to find way to improve and reduce compliance burden, according to Sara Monture, Ontario-based communications manager for the CRA.

Monture also noted that Revenue Canada received “high praise” for its electronic filing and Internet-based business account services.

“The CRA’s electronic services appear to be the one bright spot,” admitted Whyte.

More than 28 per cent of the respondents use the CRA’s GST/HST NetFile and TeleFile services, 24 per cent use the T4 Internet filing service and 22 per cent rely on the revenue agency’s Electronic Payments services.

Fifty seven per cent of tax practitioners said they used the Business Registration Online service, 39 per cent of respondents used they My Business Account service and 37 per cent used the Corporation Internet Filing service.

Whyte said some members shied away from the CRA’s electronic services because the services are fairly new.

Others also mentioned that financial institutions tended to charge higher fees for online transaction than walk-in transactions.

About 32 per cent of the business owners found user-friendliness of the CRA Web site poor.

“The Web site is very difficult to navigate. Things are titled in unusual ways, at times I have gone right past what I was looking for because I did not recognize the way it as presented,” said a CFIB member from British Columbia.

Key recommendations of the CFIB include:

  • The use of simpler and clearer language in communication materials relating to tax rules and changes
  • Improved training of CFIB personnel with emphasis in helping deliver timely and relevant information. This would include benchmarking customer service performance
  • Revamp of online, telephone and mail communication to facilitate ease of navigation, understanding and speed of response and service delivery
  • Development of an internal CRA culture of helping taxpayers rather than intimidating business owners to comply with rule.
  • Better implementation of the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights and an ongoing process of working with SMBs to develop way of reducing tax compliance burden.

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