I propose to take Questions Nos. 150, 151 and 158 together.
As the Deputies will be aware, it is long established that Revenue are independent in the exercise of their functions and this is now set out in Section 101 of the Minister and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011. I have no power to instruct them on matters relating to those functions including how and where they allocate their resources or where they place their offices.
I am informed by Revenue that they are not closing the Thurles office or its front office services. Revenue offers a range of service channels to support taxpayers to comply voluntarily with their tax and duty obligations. Revenue continues to enhance their service offering and, in particular, the channels through which their customers can obtain information and/or engage with them. For example as regards key tax and duty information, Revenue is currently re-designing its website to better meet the need of taxpayers for clear and easy to understand information.
Many taxpayers prefer to do business online and at a time of their convenience. To meet that need, Revenue has in place modern, high-quality, accessible and user friendly online services for taxpayers to manage their tax affairs at a time that best suits each taxpayer. Revenue continues to enhance those services and recent on-line developments include the facility for PAYE customers to file their tax returns online; the 'myaccount' service, eTax Clearance and the 'MyEnquiries' secure online enquiry facility. Additional developments are in the pipeline.
Revenue has also significantly improved its telephone services including the introduction of a new Business Taxes service and consistent opening hours across the telephone services given greater certainty for taxpayers.
Enhanced online services and improved telephone service has resulted in a reduced demand for the traditional 'walk-in' services to public offices. The number of personal callers fell by 64% since 2008, from 1.15m callers to approximately 400,000 in 2015. I am advised by Revenue that taxpayers are choosing different channels to 'walk-in' services and are getting the information and assistance they require in a way that better meets their needs.
In this regard, Revenue introduced an appointments service in a number of public offices in 2015 and 2016 and will extend this to other offices, including Thurles, in the coming months. An appointments service provides a further improvement in Revenue's service to taxpayers by eliminating the need for queuing and reduces the time involved for taxpayers. The move to an appointments service is advised, locally, in advance with notices in the particular Revenue office, other public notices, through local media and on Revenue's website www.revenue.ie. This will be the case as regards the Thurles office in due course.
I am informed by Revenue that they have eighteen public offices around the country. Staff in these offices are, generally speaking, equipped to deal with the full range of issues raised by taxpayers when they call. Approximately 75 fulltime equivalent staff are directly involved in the provision of walk-in services in these public offices. Extra resources are assigned to meet peak period demand during the year. Details of staff numbers allocated to 'walk-in' services in the last five years are not available. However, I am advised by Revenue that it is likely that the numbers have reduced in that time due to the changing preferences of customers for online and telephone service channels.