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Respectful treatment for every taxpayer

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Make sure that every tax payer receives and perceives respectful treatment

The treatment of a taxpayer by a Tax Administration may impact on the ‘trust relationship’ between the parties, as it can either build or destroy trust. If taxpayers are treated just and fair and perceive the treatment to be that, taxpayers are more likely to accept a decision from the Tax Administration even if it means paying more tax. Treatment, in this regard, is much broader than a service issue. It is about understanding taxpayers’ emotions and ensuring that any interaction with the Tax Administration is a positive experience.

Tax Administrations have an opportunity to make a difference and earn trust independently of the tax matter. Each taxpayer is different and has different needs. Therefore, the treatment should be tailored to meet the taxpayer’s individual needs. However, the treatment should always be respectful regardless of the context (be it a customer service interaction or an audit or a criminal investigation). In this sense, it is important to differentiate between the actions and behaviour of the taxpayer and the taxpayer as an individual.

The first stage in treating taxpayers with respect is to understand the taxpayers’ perspective. This will enable Tax Administrations to identify the taxpayers’ needs and to understand their motivations and behaviours. Emotions play an important role in influencing behaviours so a better knowledge of how emotions shape attitudes and behaviour towards compliance is valuable.

1.1 Taxpayer’s perception of the treatment they receive

Behaviour is influenced by several factors and sometimes it may not be based on rational decisions. Emotions play an important role and knowledge of how emotions contribute to compliant behaviour is key. Taxpayers can experience positive or negative emotions. Within negative emotions, Tax Administrations have to differentiate between fear and anger, which might lead to different results on taxpayer’s willingness to comply with their obligations. In short, fear increases risk aversion whereas anger typically leads to more risk taking behaviour. Furthermore, it has to be considered that strong emotions could be caused by the Tax Administration’s behaviour and/or by the economic environment the taxpayer is operating in.

Tax Administrations need to ensure that a taxpayer is treated respectfully and that the taxpayer perceives it that way. Empathy, a helpful attitude, the ability to listen and encouraging the taxpayer to ask questions are important to make the taxpayer believe that he or she matters.

Tax Administration should be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to engaging with taxpayers. It is important that Tax Administrations acknowledge and apologise for any mistakes made. Transparency in decision-making should be the basis of trust. Taxpayers must be treated equally but not necessarily in the same way depending on taxpayers individual needs and consistently. In this way, Tax Administrations show fairness, consistency and empathy and the taxpayer perceives their actions, or non-actions, as a direct way of displaying respect and understanding.

1.2 Provide respectful treatment

A taxpayer’s perception of the treatment they receive is important, but a Tax Administration’s responsibilities go further. Tax Administrations must ensure that the actual treatment of a taxpayer is fair and equal and that everyone receives respectful treatment no matter who they are, what they look like or what they may have done. In this sense, it’s important to understand and address preconceptions and to challenge stereotypes. Tax Administrations need to consider what respectful treatment actually entails. It is not sufficient to try and treat taxpayers respectfully, taxpayers also need to believe that they are being treated respectfully.

In order to ensure that every taxpayer receives respectful treatment, Tax Administrations can undertake a range of customer service initiatives, some of which are proactive while others reactive. In this regard, initiatives could include dedicated training sessions aimed at changing the employees mind-set; collecting and analysing feedback from taxpayers to obtain taxpayers’ views on various tax matters; developing and editing Customer Service Manuals, and implementing internal quality controls to ensure that information provided to the taxpayer is correct and that the Tax Administration’s customer service standards are adhered to. All the above should be developed and implemented on the basis of a Code of Ethics which should be available and applicable to both taxpayers and Tax Administration staff.

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