Responding to the demand created by COVID-19 support put a lot of pressure on us and we had to make choices about where we focused our people's efforts throughout the year.
We made it a priority to get money out quickly to customers applying for support, knowing these payments and loans were critical to businesses, workers and their families. We also took 192,000 calls from Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora the Ministry of Social Development to verify their people's queries on Wage Subsidy Scheme applications.
We've needed to balance this new COVID-related work with our core services to help customers meet their tax obligations and make social policy payments. For example, we made great improvements to the annual process of automatically calculated individual income tax assessments, which meant fewer customers needed to call us about their tax returns.
Our people worked overtime for extended periods on weekdays and on Saturdays, and we've recruited more people into customer-facing roles.
However, we were not able to answer all the calls we received, or respond to messages from customers as quickly as we wanted. We received 4% fewer calls this year, but correspondence was 6.6% higher, driven by a 20% increase in web messages from customers.
We publish estimated response times on our website, to give our customers some certainty over how long it may take us to respond to them.
"Thank you IRD staff for doing a great job especially during these difficult times." - Message from our Facebook page.
We did less work than would be typical in areas such as debt collection, investigations, disputes, litigation and liquidation activity. However, we continued to focus on areas that pose a high risk to the integrity of the tax and social policy system, including the COVID-19 support products.
Most of us have worked in some way to support customers affected by COVID-19 this year. Networked teams have come together to respond to different priorities such as implementing the COVID-19 Support Payment within weeks of its announcement by Government. Our people have made sure customers got support, provided tax intermediaries with the right information and support other agencies' efforts. Our customer-facing staff showed their adaptability as we redeployed them to - and sometimes retrained them in - the areas of highest demand.
Our people were also often managing significant impacts from the pandemic on their own lives. We've regularly checked in on how our people are feeling and provided proactive ways to stay well or seek help early.
In the surveys we've run through the year, people's feelings about their wellbeing remained consistent, as did their day-to-day work experiences. We've acted on what our people are telling us and encouraged our people leaders to use the results to understand and support their people's personal and work situations.
Read more about our people's wellbeing, health and safety.