In an ATO live webcast earlier this week, ATO assistant commissioner Andrew Walker answered questions about the progress of tax agents' transition from electronic lodgement service (ELS) to practitioner lodgement service (PLS).
Mr Walker said that when the PLS was introduced in July last year, approximately 4 per cent of returns were lodged through it. That has continued to increase over time and now sits at approximately 25 per cent.
“The transition is now picking up quite a bit of steam as we're getting closer to tax time,” Mr Walker said.
“We are getting that gradual pick up. It is a transition so we're continuing to see significant volumes through ELS, but we are getting that pick up.”
While the ATO is encouraging all tax agents to use the PLS, Mr Walker said they will leave the ELS available given the recent fragility of its systems.
“It will be a PLS first approach, but if needed ELS will be there to ensure that the returns can continue to flow through to the tax office,” he said.
“As we go into tax time proper, we will have ELS and the other tax return forms there as a safety net, where that has currently or previously been in tax agent software.”
Mr Walker said that the ELS will then continue to be slowly phased out, one return type at a time, following the successful close of the fringe benefits tax return on the ELS system.
“[The] 1st of April was the beginning of lodgement season for fringe benefits tax returns, and this year there isn't an ELS for FBT, so all the software developers have developed product through PLS for FBT,” he said.
“We’re starting to see the FBT returns coming through and so far looking good from a variety of different software developers.”
Mr Walker said FBT was a good return to start with because it’s often less urgent for clients than income tax returns. The next return that the ATO will look at phasing out of ELS is the partnership return at the end of September.
“At the moment we're seeing more than 30 per cent of partnership returns coming through PLS, so we're pretty confident in the way the transition is going that in six months' time, we'll be able to slowly remove the safety net,” he said.
Mr Walker said that the ATO is also working on establishing a second gateway for PLS.
“As most tax agents would know, ELS has four gateways, so if the gateway you use is down for maintenance you can switch across to another gateway,” he said.
“We're looking to build a similar sort of functionality by having a main gateway in the ATO systems, and then another gateway that’s hosted in a cloud environment, so [it's] hosted in a completely separate environment to the traditional ATO environment.”