Tried to call the ATO only to have your phone call blocked?

ATO Blocking Phone CallsCall centres are the bane of everyone’s existence, but what if you tried to call and was blocked? That’s what the ATO have been doing during peak periods to prevent what it says are excessive wait times.

Tried to call the ATO only to have your phone call blocked? While it is unknown how long calls are being blocked, it seems more likely to occur during tax time when more taxpayers call up with queries. There also appears to a decline in standards of service when comparing current year performance with prior year performance. If you’re unlucky enough to be blocked, we as tax practitioners can help you get through.

Have you tried to contact the ATO and were unable to get through to speak to an officer or was outright blocked? Well, you’re not alone, according to the latest figures released (year to date 31 December 2019), the ATO failed at its target of answering 80% of general calls within 5 minutes, while blocking almost 500,000 calls.

For the year to 31 December 2019, the ATO answered a total of around 3.7m calls within the 5-minute target. 252,196 calls, almost 7%, were abandoned, and 491,186 calls, almost 13% were blocked. During tax time, a total of around 3m calls were answered within the 5-minute target. 207,741 calls, around 6%, were abandoned, and 485,348, or 16% of calls were blocked.

According to the ATO, it blocks calls from “entering the ATO environment” when inbound calls are expected to significantly exceed its capacity.

While the ATO says blocking calls minimises the risk of taxpayers queuing for excessively long periods of time then subsequently abandoning the call without receiving service, it is cold comfort for those whose calls were blocked. It is unknown how long calls are being blocked during these peak periods as the ATO does not provide data on this measure, but this should be of particular concern for taxpayers in areas with unstable or poor phone reception and those who are calling during busier times such as after a natural disaster or during tax time.

For the prior year (2018-19), the ATO met and exceeded their target with 81% of calls answered within 5 minutes and goes up to 87% during tax time. Almost 6m calls were answered by the ATO in that year with only 6% of calls abandoned (384,648) and 6% (372,270) calls blocked. Just in relation to tax time, around 2.5m calls were answered, with 5% (133,816) calls abandoned and 2% (56,292) calls blocked.

Looking at the data, there appears to be a worrying increase in the percentage of calls being blocked from 2018-19 to 2019-20 during both tax time (2% vs 16%) and over the year (6% vs 13%), however, the effect is much more pronounced during tax time. While the ATO does not provide a cause as to why more calls are being blocked, it could be a combination of more calls to the ATO and static staffing levels.

Information from a past Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report on administration contact centres showed that the ATO had around 8 contact centres that were outsourced to various providers with 5 centres being managed by the ATO’s customer service and solutions business service line. According to an industry report, the ATO spent $285m to outsource its call centre and associated functions to 4 providers in 2017. Those contracts were reported to end in February 2020.

Perhaps when the current outsourcing arrangements end, the ATO will be able to look at its performance data to see whether increased staffing of contact centres are warranted to meet the growing needs of taxpayers for advice on an increasingly complex tax system, particularly during tax time.

What to do if you’re blocked.

If you’ve been blocked, or are unable to reach the ATO, contact us. According to ATO data, 90% of tax practitioner calls were answered within 2 minutes and zero calls were blocked. Hunter Partners can help you get the answers you’re looking for.

Hunter Partners are Accountants, Tax Agents and Financial Planners. We can assist you with all aspect of your accounting, tax and financial planning requirements, call Hunter Partners on (07) 4723-1223.