Is IRD showing increasing awareness of self-harm?
I didn’t see this article published back on the 8th October.
Includes comment from Union of Fathers (New Zealand)
Taxpayers, some facing crippling penalties, are increasingly threatening to harm themselves when dealing with the taxman.
According to official Inland Revenue figures, the number of its clients making “self-harm” threats in the past five years has nearly tripled.
There was a six-fold increase in offensive behaviour towards staff and the amount of money outstanding on child support rose by more than $1 million.
The department is enlisting Lifeline to look at how it deals with distressed callers and staff facing abuse.
The figures do show a positive – online compliments have more than tripled in five years.
Inland Revenue commissioner’s correspondence manager, Christina Goodall, said the leap in self-harm figures could be because of “increased awareness” among staff.
Taxes and social-policy debts could cause “significant distress”, and options such as instalment payments were available.
Debts could be wholly or partly wiped in hardship cases, she said.
“Offensive behaviour” cases – which jumped from 24 five years ago to 156 last year – included rude gestures, intimidation, harassment, and intoxication.
In the five years, eight clients were trespassed from the department’s offices for aggressive or threatening behaviour.
Inland Revenue spokesman Rowan McArthur said staff were dealing with suicide threats as well, citing the case of a Christchurch collections officer who last month received an award for their dealing with a child-support caller who discussed suicide.
The team leader then called the customer to check on him, McArthur said.
“[The customer] said he wanted to thank our person for taking such a caring approach and restoring his faith in human nature and in a government department.”
Allan Harvey, from the Union of Fathers, said the figures did not show the number of fathers who skipped New Zealand to avoid mounting child-support debts.
One father, whose child had lived with him in Australia for the past six years, recently received a $139,000 child-support bill.
Most of that was in penalties because late payments incurred a 10 per cent penalty, plus 2 per cent more each month, or 38 per cent a year.
Subsequent years had another 2 per cent penalty a month, equating to 27 per cent a year.
The department could often be talked into dropping penalties, if people knew to ask, he said.
Changes in the pipeline next year for child support would make things “slightly better”.
“The penalty puts people off and drives people overseas.”
Among those changes, late-payment penalties will be slightly eased.