When Cliff Kitchen called the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with a question last fall, he got an automated message asking him to call back later.
A report by auditor general Michael Ferguson released in November said the agency has picked up only a third of the calls it had received through its call centres between March 2016 and March 2017.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier promised the agency would transition to “a new telephone platform” that would “connect Canadians with agents more efficiently and will inform callers of current wait times.”
But when Kitchen, a Winnipeg-based financial planner, tried the agency’s helpline again this tax season for an unrelated matter, he was still only able to reach a machine who instructed him to call again later. The only difference was that the message advised calling back during “extended hours,” when call volumes are lower.
“There was no option to stay on the line,” Kitchen told Global News.
When he called again the following day, he was finally able to get through to a human being. However, the person who answered the phone wasn’t able to answer his question and said someone else would get in touch in three days.
Though Kitchen did, eventually, get his answer within those three days, he’s unimpressed with the CRA’s performance.
“For a service that deals with our taxes, and considering it’s tax time, I find it [incredible] that they cannot put enough people on the phones to answer questions,” he told Global News.
Social media posts suggest Kitchen’s experience is relatively common.
The agency is also advising taxpayers to call in when they have questions related to their individual tax situation, saying it can only address general queries on Twitter.
The CRA told Global News it is offering extended evening and weekend hours for individual tax inquiries until April 30, the tax-filing deadline for most Canadians.
“Our automated service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to better serve Canadians. The purpose of the message is to inform callers, during our busiest periods, of these extended hours,” it added in a statement via email.
Telephone agents are available from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, according to the CRA website.
Monday and Tuesday are the weekdays when lines are busiest, while Thursday and Friday are when taxpayers have a better chance of getting through, the site also notes.
Last year, calls got blocked, said the auditor general, partly because the call centres have a policy of not letting people wait more than two minutes to talk to someone: it was easier to meet that target by blocking a call than by letting people wait in the queue.
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In its response to the auditor general’s findings, the CRA said that its aging call centre technology does not allow them to automatically route calls to the next available agent across its national network.
Since then, “we have hired more agents, we have adjusted wait times to allow more callers to have access to agents and we have increased self-serve options for callers to help them access information quickly and easily,” the CRA told Global News.
But updating the phone centre technology is still a work in progress.
The federal budget proposes over $200 million over five years to improving CRA’s services, including building capacity in the call centers.
The government has an “action plan” that will, among other things, allow the CRA “to answer more calls, to provide an estimated wait time, and to avoid clients getting a busy signal,” Jeremy Ghio, press secretary of the Office of the Minister of National Revenue, told Global News via email.
However, “the infrastructure for the new system that supports the Government of Canada’s contact centres will be implemented in phases, which is expected in the coming year.”
Until then, you may just have to postpone dinner or your Saturday errands to get a hold of a CRA agent.
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