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E-government266

The E-Services of Estonias Tax and Customs Board

Karin Aleksandrov, chief expert, Service Department, Estonian Tax and Customs Board

Estonias Tax and Customs Board was one of the countrys first government institutions to create a user-friendly and rapid electronic communications channels for its clients. Most taxpayers in Estonia handle tax and customs business on the Internet, and it can now be said that all of the tax and customs obligations which relate to a broad user base can be fulfilled via E-channels.


Speed, convenience and simplicity are important keywords in every area of life today.  The people of Estonia live in the Information Society, and they expect government institutions to keep up with the times.  The provision and use of Internet services is a natural part of these developments.
The Estonian Tax and Customs Boards early decision to create convenient and rapid E-communications channels for its clients led to a situation in which 86% of taxpayers filed their tax returns electronically in 2007.  In the corporate sector, the same could be said of 88% of corporate income and social tax returns, 90% of value added tax returns, and 92% of excise tax returns.
2006 was the breakthrough year in abandoning paper-based customs procedures [1].  Thanks to Complex, which is a system for the processing of customs declarations, nearly 99% of such declarations are now submitted electronically.

THE NEW E-TAX BOARD

The Tax and Customs board was established in 2004 through a merger of two separate departments.  Each had established its own E-communications channels with different functions and a different visual appearance.  Once merged, the Tax and Customs Board pursued major developments in the area of E-services, creating what was known as the New E-tax Board.  At the end of 2007, users were presented with a new E-service channel which bore the visual identity of the Tax and Customs Board and offered all of the relevant tax and customs services under the name E-tax Board/E-Customs.
This updated environment is based on proposal from our clients and our own ideas and capabilities.  In 2006, the Tax and Customs Board organised an international E-services seminar in Tallinn to listen to ideas and to exchange experiences with tax administrators from other countries.
One reason for the reorganisation of the electronic service channel was that the former menu-based navigation solution was too complicated, and it was not possible to distinguish between different roles.  Users with official authorisation had compounded too many links, and the former solution did not make it possible to add easily accessible links to new applications or to group the links.
The new E-service solution helped to eliminate all of the stated problems.  It also:
Provides for a modern and ergonomic working environment for both the client and the tax or customs official, facilitating the movement of users through this environment;
Comprehensively distinguishes between the roles and desktops of users (private client, corporate client, official);
Offers an optimum menu structure which can easily be supplemented with new applications in the future.
The new desktop menu structure was compatible with all of the existing applications, and it made it possible to add new technical solutions so as to increase usability.  It also made it possible to limit user numbers during periods of high load in the various applications.

NEW SERVICES

Increasing user awareness and the development of information technologies have led to constant improvements and simplification in the existing electronic services.  The ability of Estonians to declare their income is among the simplest in the world.  People have been doing this electronically for eight years, and the Tax and Customs Board can enter data about a clients income and expenses onto the tax return.  That means that the electronic return can be sent directly to the client, and if the data are correct, the client just has to click the mouse, and the form is submitted.
From the perspective of service speed, another fact is important on the basis of 2006 tax returns, the Board returned overpaid sums of tax to 94% of the clients who filed their tax returns electronically, and after preliminary verification, these sums were returned, on average, within five working days after the returns were filed.
New electronic services are being added to the E-Tax Board/E-Customs on a constant basis.

THE LAND TAX

Land tax applications were added to the list of E-Tax Board/E-Customs services in 2007.  Landowners can now review their land tax data electronically.  Users can opt out of hard copy tax notices, instead asking that information be sent by E-mail.
The land tax data section contains data about plots of land that are owned by each user (the type of land, the area of land, etc.).  There are also data about the land tax and the establishment of same (taxation price, tax rate, tax liability, etc.).  These data are available to private individuals and to authorised representatives of companies or institutions.
The electronic land tax notice was the latest important application which concerns large numbers of clients who had previously been absent from the E-service environment.  The Tax and Customs Board has now made land tax services more accessible and more simple for more than 500,000 clients.  The application saves a great deal of state money in terms of no long having to print out and mail tax notices.
Since 2007, in other words, all tax and customs obligations related to a large user base have been available via electronic channels.

DATA ON CUTTING RIGHTS AND TIMBER

Laws about how data on cutting rights and timber from forests are to be presented have been changed, and since 2007, people have been required to present notices concerning cutting rights and any purchase or sale of timber to the Tax and Customs Board.  A new application was added to the system so that this can be done electronically.  Users upload files in the required format (xml, csv) to the E-Tax Board/E-Customs system.

E-TIR

A Web-based TIR notebook has been one of the E-services since July 2007.  Users authorised by the TIR notebooks owner can enter TIR operation data into the Web-based system, forward these to the customs service, and obtain information from the system as to the course and status of processing the notebooks.

SUMDEC/TERM

Two  new E-customs services were added to the E-Tax Board/E-Customs system on February 1, 2008.  These allow the client to submit general road declarations, as well as terminal and storage site notices.
SUMDEC is a system to process entry declarations, and it registers an processes those declarations which are submitted by the systems clients.  The system is intended for general declarations of goods which enter the European Unions customs territory by road.  It enables risk analysis on the basis of the data that are received.  The new system replaced the formerly used entry declaration processing module in the ASYCUDA system.
SUMDEC is interfaced to the Web-based storage notice processing system known as TERM.  It registers and processes storage notices which are submitted by clients.  The system allows customs officials to keep track of the temporary storage of goods and the implementation of relevant customs procedures.  The old system involved hard copy notices upon the temporary storage of goods, complete with confirmation from the customs terminal operator.  The new rules say that notices are submitted by the customs terminal or the storage site operator, and customs officials issue approval electronically via the TERM data processing system.

USER AUTHENTICATION

Options for entering the E-Tax Board/E-Customs system have also been improved on an ongoing basis.  Right now the Tax and Customs Board offers authentication services via eight banks.  The Internet banking environment allows clients to access the E-Tax Board/E-Customs system and its services.

The homepage of the Tax and Customs Board offers the option of entering the E-Tax Board/E-Customs system with a user name and password, or via the users ID card.  The Mobile ID function was added to these possibilities in 2007.  Now clients can enter with their personal ID code and the Mobile ID PIN code which is received in response to a verification message.
The new solution was made possible when the Tax and Customs Board introduced a new authenticator.  In the Mobile ID function, user identification is protected by high-end security technologies and Mobile ID PIN codes.

SMS SERVICES

In addition to the E-Tax Board/E-Customs service, the Tax and Customs Board also offers SMS services.
Verification of tax stamps on strong alcohol has been possible since April 2007.  Consumers can check the legality of alcohol via SMS, forwarding the tax number that is on the bottle top for verification.
Another SMS-based service allows the Tax and Customs Board to offer information about the waiting time in queues along the three border stations on the Estonian-Russian border.  This information, which is forwarded via SMS, allows carriers, purveyors and suppliers throughout Europe to better plan their activities and optimise their logistical operations.  The information is available on the Tax and Customs Boards Web page.

CONCLUSION

According to a client satisfaction survey that was conducted at the end of 2006, the E-Tax Board/E-Customs service is the most popular service channel for the Tax and Customs Board, with a rating of 4.65 on a 5-point satisfaction scale.
In recognition of this development of public services and accessibility of same, the evaluation committee of the Estonian best practice competition chose the Tax and Customs Boards E-service environment to represent Estonia in the 5th EU conference on the quality of public services, Citizens at the Centre of Public Services.

REFERENCE

1. Developments in the Tax and E-Customs Board in 2006: Information Technologies in the Public Administration of Estonia.  Yearbook, 2006 (4.4.3).  See www.riso.ee/en/pub/2006it/index.php.

Authors contacts: +372 676 2277, karin.aleksandrov(at)emta.ee


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13.11.2019


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