So, what are the tips for maximising EOFY opportunities?
Organising your clients
The EOFY is a great way both to galvanise your existing clients and attract new ones ahead of tax time.
Contacting all the clients and contacts on your database to ensure you give them some simple year-end tax planning tips and guidance as to what they need to do for tax time should be at the top of your list.
This will showcase that you are proactive in helping your clients; it gives you the opportunity to win brownie points by potentially saving them some tax and it means that disciplined clients will take your advice about organising for tax time. When they book to see your practice to complete their tax return, they’ll be more organised, cutting down the time you and your staff need to spend on basic admin and allowing you to fit more appointments into your office diary.
Simply reminding taxpayers that you exist before tax time will in itself induce many to call up and make an appointment earlier than they would have done and will prevent them from going elsewhere, to one of your competitors perhaps or to the ubiquitous and ever-threatening myTax.
Organising your practice
Make sure all your staff are properly trained in all the new tax measures which were introduced over the previous tax year and will now impact 2017–18 tax returns. You don’t, for instance, want staff allowing clients to make claims for travel costs to their rental properties when the law was changed to prohibit such claims from 1 July 2017!
Make sure also that they have a good knowledge of any new measures coming into effect from 1 July 2018; while these might not affect a tax return until next year, you need to be proactively advising your clients of any changes that might impact them for good (like the introduction of the new superannuation downsizer contributions) or ill (like the new GST withholding requirements for sales of new property).
There are a couple of significant changes to the way your practice will interact with the ATO this tax season and you need to ensure that all your staff know about the changes, are suitably trained and are aware of the impacts on workflow.
First of all, the ATO has closed down its old lodgement gateway, the Electronic Lodgement Service (ELS) and migrated to a new gateway, the Practitioner Lodgement Service (PLS). ELS was finally closed for personal tax returns over the Easter weekend meaning that for this tax season, all individual tax returns must be lodged through PLS. This is largely an issue for software developers who have had to build the new interface into their programs. In theory, the effect on practitioners themselves should be minimal but you need to ensure that you have downloaded the latest software updates from your provider, that all staff are trained to recognise and deal with any changes in the way the software works and that you have built workarounds for any changes that are required to your internal processes.
Another key change coming from 1 July is the beginning of the ATO online service for tax agents rollout, replacing the much complained about Tax Agent Portal. While the ATO has talked a big game about this new service, the proof of the pudding in terms of functionality won’t become clear until the new service goes fully live on 1 July. Many practitioners will have had the chance to test the system whilst it was in development but all practitioners will want to familiarise themselves and their staff with the new look and feel of the system ahead of 1 July.
Finally, IT security is one of the great business risks of the current period. Make sure that your client communication channels are secure, don’t leave sensitive client information lying around the office, and beware hackers who are able to tap into your IT systems and access client data. At the very least, your virus protection software (including firewalls, anti-spam and network intrusion detection) should be up to date and of a high standard and all your staff should be aware of the risks of increasingly sophisticated scam emails which can implant malware into your system.
Mark Chapman, tax communications director, H&R Block