More tech, less taxing work for all

Taxpayers and the taxman enjoy efficiencies as Iras marks 25 innovative years as stat board

Tax-filing season is a once-a-year chore that most of us can complete without too much stress but it is a far different story for the taxman.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) faces a monumental task serving more than 4.5 million taxpayers comprising individuals, property owners and businesses.

The hard work might ease up for a bit on Thursday, when the organisation celebrates its 25th anniversary since becoming a statutory board on Sept 1, 1992. The milestone comes on the heels of its annual report card indicating a bumper tax revenue collection of $47 billion in financial year 2016/2017.

One key development in its 25-year journey has been its early adoption of technology, underlining Iras' transformation from its traditional role as a tax collector to being a partner to taxpayers in community-building.

This has involved integrating high technology into its systems and processes to achieve operational efficiency and benefit taxpayers - individuals and corporates - alike.

Complementing this was a mindset shift in the recognition that most taxpayers are voluntarily compliant as opposed to the implicit assumption that they are dodgers and evaders.

The Iras Gallery, which will open on Thursday, is a digital and interactive gallery. It has been refreshed to commemorate the organisation's 25th anniversary since becoming a statutory board. The central narrative of the gallery highlights Singapore's tax story, from the time Singapore was founded in 1819 to the present day. Interactive exhibits such as the tax panels show how Iras partners the community in creating an inclusive, progressive country. PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The Iras transformation journey is dotted with many milestones.

Back in 1992, it faced many administrative inefficiencies, from a backlog of assessments to uncollected tax arrears.

Queues and paperwork at Iras are quickly becoming history as most taxpayers now file their tax returns electronically. Building on past successes, Iras says it will continue to harness digital technology to improve service. ST FILE PHOTO

It seems unthinkable now that some taxpayers then had to wait for more than two years before receiving their tax bill or notice of assessment (NOA). Some even ended up paying two or more years of tax in a particular year because of the assessment backlog.

Today, most of us pay our personal income taxes in 12 months of instalment payments. And instead of paper-filing our tax returns, we are encouraged to e-file, while some enjoy the no-filing service.

Iras aims to eventually offer instantaneous NOA to all taxpayers so you will receive your finalised bill immediately upon filing your return.

Latest tax statistics showed that tax compliance remained high, with tax arrears kept low at 0.68 per cent of net tax assessed.


Building on past successes, Iras says it will continue to harness digital technology to improve service. Early last year, it started a new transformation movement LEA:D - to leverage analytics, design and digitalisation.

Iras uses analytics to sift through collected data to identify meaningful patterns to support decision-making and prioritise its resources.

This allows it to better understand taxpayers' inquiries and improve its service delivery. The use of advanced analytics also enables the taxman to more accurately identify tax compliance risks and select cases for audit.

Iras commissioner and chief executive Tan Tee How told The Sunday Times that the landscape of tax administration is shifting fast with technological disruption, so it is seizing the opportunity to embark on a transformation movement that will affect not just taxpayers but also the organisation itself.

"Innovation is in our DNA. We will reinvent ourselves to become a smart, agile organisation to better serve taxpayers," he says.

"To do this, Iras will integrate the taxes into taxpayers' natural business systems so that it is easy for taxpayers to fulfil their tax obligations.

"We will tap the diversity and innovative capabilities of the broader community to co-create digital solutions that will benefit individuals and businesses.

"Our end goal of this transformation journey is to build a socially responsible taxpaying community that believes in the value of paying taxes for nation-building."


Social media and digital communication devices have changed the way people are consuming information and transacting with the Government.

The touch points that Iras has with taxpayers will be digital. Letters or notices will be digitalised in phases to ease taxpayers into the e-mode of communications. Taxpayers will be able to indicate their preferred communication channels, whether e-mail or SMS.

"We recognise that there is a small group of taxpayers who may not be ready for digital correspondences," said an Iras spokesman.

"They will be given the option to opt out and and we will continue to provide support for the less digitally savvy taxpayers."

Part of this strategy will come by early next year when Iras plans to roll out the electronic property tax bill for residential home owners.


Taxpayers can use a chatbot, "Ask Jamie", to get quick answers on matters relating to individual income tax, property tax and stamp duty.

By next year, "Ask Jamie" will be able to handle inquiries on corporate tax and GST.


Innovation is in our DNA. We will reinvent ourselves to become a smart, agile organisation to better serve taxpayers.


Taxpayers can also look forward to carrying out simple transactions such as checking property tax balances via the chatbot, which will be integrated with social media messaging platforms such as Facebook messenger, Skype messenger and Telegram.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'More tech, less taxing work for all'. Print Edition | Subscribe