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VIEWPOINT: Did DOTAX Turn the Corner on Customer Service?

It’s about time for our annual review of the Department of Taxation and its customer service.  Let’s see how the Department did in the year ending June 30, 2016, as reflected in the Department’s annual report.

One notable improvement has been in the Department’s call answer rate.  If a practitioner or a taxpayer picks up the phone and calls the Department with a question, will a Department employee pick up the phone at all?  Last year the probability that the Department would answer the call was 43%, less than half.  In 2016 it jumped to 72%.  It’s a big improvement, but it still leaves one of four callers in the dust.

Source:  Department of Taxation, 2015-2016 Annual Report

If the Department is unable to pick up the phone, at a minimum, there should be published guidance available so taxpayers can find their answers, either by themselves or with the help of tax professionals.  Tax practitioners should be able to advise their clients on what that guidance says, and in this way can help get the word out where the Department needs it most.  We counted different kinds of administrative guidance and saw the total dropping consistently over the last several years, but there was an uptick in 2016.  We also note that the Department recently put up for public hearing a few meaty packages of administrative rules, which should help taxpayers and practitioners.

Source:  Department of Taxation web site

The number of taxpayers who the Department assisted in person tumbled an average 10% a year during 2011-2015.  The number rose a little in 2016, snapping the streak.  The Department has said more taxpayers are e-filing and doing other things electronically, so they don’t have to visit the Department.  We were worried that the drop might be due to taxpayers getting nowhere and giving up.

Source:  Department of Taxation, Annual Reports

We wish that the Department will continue to provide robust customer service, including coming out with timely guidance, and we hope that the legislative and executive branches of government can provide adequate resources for the Department to do so.

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About Tom Yamachika

Tom Yamachika

Tom Yamachika is the President of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a private, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to informing the taxpaying public about the finances of our state and local governments in Hawaii.
Tom is also a tax attorney in solo practice and has been since early 2013. Prior to 2013, he was with the accounting firm Accuity LLP, which was formed in 2006 from the Honolulu office of Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PricewaterhouseCoopers). Before that, he served as an Administrative Rules Specialist in the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation from 1994 to 1996, where he drafted rules, interpretive releases, and legislation on several different state taxes. Prior to that, he practiced litigation and tax law with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright in Honolulu.

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