More than 70,000 calls to IRD unanswered - union

Government cuts and poor planning have left more than 70,000 calls to IRD unanswered over its busiest tax return time, the Public Service Association (PSA) says.

IRD figures showed about 70,000 calls weren't answered between June 25 and July 5 - the two weeks leading up to the deadline for filing tax returns.

During that period 164,000 calls were planned for, but more than 202,000 were received. Of those only about 131,000 were actually answered as the department struggled to cope with increased demand.

The PSA said there had also been a significant increase in the number complaints about the phone service.

National secretary Richard Wagstaff said it was frustrating for both the public and staff but was a "clear consequence" of budget cuts and bad decision-making.

"IRD has been undergoing a large restructuring programme which has already seen its workforce slashed by nearly half in several regional sites.  It has been creating what it calls 'virtual jobs’ in metropolitan centres while reducing jobs and services in the provinces.

“What we’re now seeing is that IRD can’t handle peak season requirements and services are clearly being stretched to breaking point,” Mr Wagstaff said.

“Ironically IRD is being forced to take a band-aid approach and is handing work back to the very provincial offices which have been scaled back.  That means more pressure on remaining staff in those offices and extra duties which they don’t necessarily have the training or support to carry out."

He said morale at the government department had plummeted and the PSA would be seeking meetings with IRD discuss restructuring and the effect on staff and resources.

However, an IRD spokeswoman said calls went unanswered because it was the busiest time of the year and some staff had called in sick.

"We understand some people find these delays frustrating and we apologise to them," she said.

"We have experienced some winter sickness among call centre staff, but have been working to redeploy other staff to answer calls."

Fairfax Media