2. Laying the foundation for e-services
For decades, completing tax returns in January was an annual nightmare for many citizens, requiring considerable time and effort. Taxpayers compiled information on their income, attached the required receipts, and mailed the tax return to the Tax Administration.
This changed in the mid-1990s. Thanks to the massive increase in IT adoption, the Tax Administration could collect information from different parties: employers, the Social Insurance Institution (KELA), pension and insurance institutions, and banks. This information no longer had to be collected from taxpayers – taxes could be implemented without bothering customers.
The solution was the tax proposal: the Tax Administration used the information it had collected to send a proposal to taxpayers. All the taxpayer had to do was check that the tax proposal was accurate, and correct the information if necessary. The tax proposal also enabled the Tax Administration to turn its approach to service upside down. Now the roles of the Tax Administration and taxpayers were reversed.
The introduction of the tax proposal commenced with a pilot in connection with the taxation for 1995. It involved 12 localities and 358,000 wage earners, pensioners and students. The pilot was successful: it resulted in less inconvenience for customers and higher cost-savings for the Tax Administration.
This approach was rapidly expanded. The next year, as many as 1.6 million taxpayers received a tax proposal. At the turn of the decade, 80 per cent of wage earners and pensioners, three million customers, were receiving tax proposals.
The tax proposal was based on extensive use of IT – and was a tangible demonstration of the opportunities it opened up. That said, the tax proposal was implemented in the traditional way with paper forms, like all of the Tax Administration’s customer services.
The Internet revolution
The rapid expansion of Internet use as from the mid-1990s revolutionised the services of the Tax Administration. The agency started assessing the use of the Internet as a tool for customer communications in 1995. The Tax Administration introduced Apaja, its first www-based intranet system for internal communications, in 1997. An Internet service for customers went live the next year at www.vero.fi. The site was published in Finnish, Swedish and English.
The original site was not interactive. Vero.fi focused on sharing information: it provided tax instructions and information on current tax issues. In addition, most of the Tax Administration’s forms were available for printing on the site.
The service was used actively right from the start: during the first six months, the site received almost 800,000 visits. The most popular feature of Vero.fi was a calculator for assessing tax rate percentage changes. The site developed into the most important service channel for taxpayers and tax recipients (municipalities, parishes, the state).
Thanks to the online service, the availability of the information provided by the Tax Administration improved decisively. This was a dramatic change – before this, most communications and guidelines had been handled using letters, bulletins and telephone service. The site now provided convenient one-stop access to tax instructions.
The Internet laid the foundation for digital services that can be used wherever and whenever. Many calls and visits to the tax office were no longer necessary. Taxpayers would not be free of paper forms for many years to come, but during the 2000s an increasing number of subareas of taxation were gradually transferred online.