Thousands of backlogs at Tax Appeals Commission

The lack of resources at the Tax Appeals Commission (TAC) has led to a “Manuel from Fawlty Towers” situation, with thousands of cases backlogged in the system.

Thousands of backlogs at Tax Appeals Commission

Members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee audibly gasped at the level of problems facing the TAC, which was set up in 2016.

Officials told committee members it is so under-resourced that:

  • Just 14.5 staff are working on around 5,000 cases;
  • The phone system is not working, with callers unable to ring inward;
  • The IT system is not fit for purpose, with one high-level member of staff watching his computer go up in flames;
  • It is unable to hire suitable staff due to bureaucratic red-tape, despite needing “10 at a minimum” to tackle the backlog;
  • It has no tables and chairs in its meeting rooms;
  • It was given two weeks’ notice to vacate its old premises despite not wanting to leave — new offices were unfurnished when they arrived.

The staff’s frustration was compounded when Revenue digitally handed over a range of appeal cases, but staff had to manually process them because the only Revenue member with the digital password was on leave.

Revenue Commissioner Mark O’Mahony said: “We had to carry out — and I cannot understate how time-consuming this was — a quality control exercise on the data as we manually input every single piece into our case management system. It was a huge task.”

There were gasps of incredulity from committee members as some of the revelations were made by Mr O’Mahony and his team.

Chairman Sean Fleming, a Fianna Fáil TD, said there could be no confidence in the system as it was.

“This is the 21st century and phones aren’t working,” he said. “It is farcical, it is awful. Obviously, nobody has been listening to you. It is appalling.”

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said it brought to mind absent-minded waiter Manuel from Fawlty Towers, with “computers blowing up”.

The TAC has an annual budget of €1.6m while it pursues cases worth around €1.6bn, with over €1.1bn in taxes disputed by appellants.

Later, Revenue chairman Niall Cody expressed his sympathy for the TAC, saying the tax appeals system was “not fit for purpose” and that it inherited a flawed system in need of reform.

Mr O’Mahony said the scale of the problems were not clear to his then staff of four in 2016 but that they realised the magnitude of the task ahead in 2017.

It now has 14.5 staff but needs 10 more at a minimum, plus three more case workers, he said.

It has “tried everything” to recruit staff but has no authorisation to do so from the private sector, and finds itself hamstrung by months-long delays going through the official, public channels.

As a consequence, it had to hand back almost €600,000 of its unspent budget in 2016 and €528,000 in 2017 without resolving the staff shortage.

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