Headlines: June 10th, 1999

The Inland Revenue did better in looking after its customers in the year ended in April 1999. It dealt with 97% of callers within 15 minutes, the target was 94%. It also replied to 81% of letters within 28 days, beating the target of 75%. Other customer service results set out in the Department’s Plan for 1999/2000 present an equally upbeat picture.

Just how satisfied taxpayers are with the service they receive is not revealed by the published information. It is generally only possible to contact the Department in person or by phone between 9.0 am and 4.30 pm Monday to Friday, but an experimental call centre which will be open for extended hours will ease the access problem.

It is surprising that the Department can only identify customers who were so dissatisfied with the service they received that they complained. Last year there were only 40,000 complaints, which is very low for a customer base of 30 million taxpayers. There is no information about the satisfaction level of the several million customers who did contact the Department by some method. How these customers are distributed across the range from very dissatisfied to very satisfied would be most revealing. A spokesperson for the Inland Revenue said there are no plans to carry out any research into customer satisfaction.

This lack of market research is in conflict with Cabinet Office Minister Jack Cunningham’s view that: “By listening to, and learning from, people’s views, a government is better able to provide the services that people want.” The Inland Revenue’s approach differs from local government where councils are adopting a wide range of public consultation methods. It also differs from the national health service where systematic surveys of patient satisfaction are being conducted.