Public Accounts Committee Holds Revenue Canada “Call” Centres to Account

Hon. Kevin Sorenson, M.P., (Battle River-Crowfoot)
Parliamentary Report

The recent Fall 2017 Report of the Auditor General of Canada included a chapter on Revenue Canada Agency Call Centres. Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General concluded, “Overall, we found that the agency did not provide timely access to accurate information.”

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts holds public hearings to question the government officials responsible for performing the duties that are the subject of Auditor General Reports. We made the hearing on the CRA Call Centres a priority and met on November 30. You can read the transcript at http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/PACP/meeting-82/evidence.

As the Chair, I carefully consider before engaging in the committee’s debates because it is my job to preside over the debate. Before the questioning of the Revenue Canada officials began – after the Auditor General spoke and the officials spoke, I interjected to set the tone saying, “…every Member of Parliament’s office receives calls from people who are obviously frustrated with CRA. It’s good that you’re here and that you have recognized some of this. There has not been an apology today, but you have recognized where you’ve been deficient and where you need to do better.”

Over the period of the audit, there were 29 million calls intentionally blocked by CRA. More than half of the calls came from folks trying to get help filling out their tax forms. The average wait time for callers was more than two minutes, so the agency either blocked the calls by giving them a busy signal, or directed them to the automated self-service system.

The agency ‘invented’ this practise. They had not surveyed callers – or anyone – to verify that this practise was satisfactory. Even though callers had to make an average of three or four call attempts, some callers still couldn’t reach an agent. Only 36% of all calls reached either an agent or a self-serve system.

Before the Auditor General’s work, the CRA believed that 90% of callers were able to reach either the self-service system or call centre agent. Finally, the Audit found that Call Centre agents provided inaccurate information almost 30% of the time – a significantly higher error rate than estimated by the CRA itself.

This explains a great deal of the work that my staff in both my Riding and Parliament Hill offices has been doing trying to help local taxpayers. The only good news is that Canada Revenue Agency has agreed with all of the Auditor General’s recommendations and has committed to taking corrective action.

Making sure that federal departments and agencies make good on their commitments is what our Public Accounts Committee does. As the Chair, I pledge to you that with diligence, I will continue to hold the CRA to account for their shabby treatment of honest and responsible Canadians trying to correctly pay their taxes. At the end of the meeting I told the CRA that they will soon be “called back” by our committee to update us on their progress. We hope they will have much progress to report.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or previous columns you may write me at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, toll-free 1-800-665-4358, fax 780-608-4603 or e-mail Kevin.Sorenson.c1@parl.gc.ca.