Saturday 24 March 2018

Private firm to run helpline for 1.6 million households

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE Revenue has given the contract for running the property tax helpline to a private call centre – despite opposition from its own civil servants.

It has awarded the one-year contract to Cork-based company Abtran – which came to public attention last year for its role in processing college grant applications.

The group representing lower paid civil servants argued that it was a waste of money to outsource the job when there was already enough "surplus staff" in the public service to do it.

But the Revenue insisted it did not have enough available staff. It said the private call centre gave it the best chance of responding to the "exceptional temporary pressures" expected during the roll-out of the property tax.

Abtran will have 40 staff to deal with calls from the 1.6 million liable households. More complex queries that cannot be handled by those staff will be passed on to around 27 Revenue employees.

It will cost Revenue a total of €4.9m to provide this service, with the payments to Abtran being based on how many calls it handles.

The group set up to resolve civil service disputes has now given Revenue the go-ahead despite the objections of the Civil and Public Service Union.

In its ruling, the Civil Service Arbitration Board said it did not breach the outsourcing provisions in the Croke Park Agreement because it was a new service.

The Revenue estimated that the cheapest option would have been to outsource the call centre work entirely. This would have cost €3.6m compared to the €4.9m for using the Abtran call centre and some of its own staff. Revenue said the current mixed option was the best in terms of providing a quality service and getting value for money.

The Revenue told the Irish Independent that the helpline started on March 7 – and that there had been already almost 2,000 calls to the 1890 200 255 number. It is monitoring the management of the calls by Abtran as well as the "actual delivery of the service".

A Revenue spokeswoman pointed out that the Revenue needed to keep as many of its own staff free as possible to handle its main taxation work.

When there were complaints about huge backlogs in the new Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) system in November, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn saidAbtran was taking on 50 extra staff on top of the 79 it had already employed for the task. His department recently said more than 80pc of all student grant applications had been processed and Abtran said the problems had been resolved.

"The property tax information service is entirely separate," it said.

Abtran was set up in 1997 and employs 1,100 people.

Irish Independent

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