, Vienna Blümel presents first sitrep on Tax Authority Austria Service expanded despite coronavirus crisis – Individuals and businesses benefiting from innovations

On 1 January 2021, following intensive preparatory work, the new structure of the Austrian Tax Administration was launched. Both the organisation and processes of the administration have been improved, and the range of services provided to customers has been expanded. Measured against key indicators, an initial review of the newly-created Tax Authority Austria reveals a positive picture, particularly in view of the numerous additional tasks that arose due to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Through this reform, we have enhanced the service aspect of the Tax Administration and optimised our processes. For individuals, this reform brings improved organisation and faster procedures. The economy will benefit from more efficient audit and control processes as well as more targeted action against offenders," concludes Finance Minister Gernot Blümel.

Overcoming the coronavirus pandemic

Of course, the pandemic also confronted the Tax Administration with new challenges which could not have been handled so efficiently without the new structure of Tax Authority Austria, which now has a task-oriented focus and nationwide workload distribution. One example of this is employee tax assessments; in 2021, up to the end of August alone, already over 3 million applications had been submitted, whereas, in previous years, over the entire year, only between 3.4 million and 3.7 million applications were filed. Despite this increase, the average processing time was reduced by just under two days as compared with 2018.

The Predictive Analytics Competence Centre (PACC) at the Federal Ministry of Finance also plays an important role in connection with COVID-19 support measures for business. Between April 2020 and the end of September this year, the PACC undertook automated validation of 965 000 applications. On the initiative of COFAG (the Austrian COVID-19 Federal Financing Agency), for these, a total of 27 000 supplementary reports were produced by the Tax Administration; these related primarily to cases where doubt was expressed as to the plausibility of application data, the aim being to prevent abuse of the system.

Telephone services – the first to be centralised

Due to a continuing rise in the number of phone calls made, back in 2004 steps were taken to streamline telephone services. In 2015, based on international best practice in customer service, a central phone number (050 233 233) was introduced and incoming calls handled on a centralised basis.

This success story of Tax Authority Austria is reflected in the following statistics: to date in 2021, over 5 million calls have been received by the Tax Administration Hotlines (including the Coronavirus Hotline), double the number of calls handled in the 2000s, and an increase of around 20 % on 2019. Almost 90 % of enquiries were resolved during an initial phone call. Since calls tend naturally to come in waves, Tax Authority Austria responds swiftly to each given situation, for instance through flexible personnel deployment and a concomitant rapid increase in the staffing of hotlines where needed.

In addition, innovative concepts such as chat bot 'Fred' support Austrian citizens with their enquiries, and are seeing a high level of acceptance. This year alone, 'Fred' has been used almost a million times, with almost 650 000 conversations being launched.

FinanzOnline even more user-friendly
On the subject of digital services, in this area the Tax Administration has been leading the way in e-government for many years already, even by international standards. FinanzOnline, introduced in 2003, underwent a comprehensive relaunch last year, making it now even more user-friendly. The online service is not only widely used by the younger generation; indeed, over 620 000 users are aged over 65.

"I attach great importance to having a citizen-friendly and service-orientated administration, which is why I am naturally all the more gratified by the success story of FinanzOnline. Indeed we will continue to make efforts to reduce bureaucracy and improve our online services," explains Finance Minister Blümel.

A further example of the expansion of online services is the option of making appointments online. This saves unnecessary waiting time at the tax office and enables employees to take the time they need to deal with each enquiry.

Processing times reduced for businesses
Naturally, it is not only individuals but also businesses that benefit from the Austrian Tax Administration's service focus. This year, in total over 2.1 million business tax returns were processed by Tax Authority Austria and the Tax Authority for Large Traders.

As a result of the change in structure, business operators benefit in multiple ways. Faster processing, simple and automated digital services, plus higher quality and performance standards are the result, while at the same time, regional offices are being maintained.

This year, the average processing time for an instalment application was just over 7 days. By way of comparison, in 2019 the processing time averaged just over 12 days. This improvement is primarily due to last year's modernisation of the Tax Administration.

The same applies with regard to company formations, which are increasing in number with each passing year. While over the whole of 2019, only around 100 000 applications were received, in 2020 the number grew to 110 000. This year, up to September alone, over 110 000 applications have already been made and, just as last year, these have been processed on average within 10 days, even though the number of applications has risen significantly. In general, approximately 25 % of all tax reference numbers are issued on the same day, subject to risk assessment and availability of underlying data.