With the ATO’s new online services for agents now replacing the tax and BAS agent portals as the default login for agents, professional bodies and practitioners have raised a quirk in functionality between the two corresponding systems.
In the new online services, agents are unable to view the information of their deceased clients, despite previously having access to it in the portal.
Speaking to Accountants Daily, the Institute of Public Accountants general manager of technical policy, Tony Greco, said the problem has arisen because the ATO is “caught between the law and the Taxation Administration Act”.
“The new online services is taking the legal position that agents shouldn’t be accessing the information unless they are legally able to, but it is a change in what practitioners were normally able to do,” Mr Greco said.
“The ATO is not wrong because, legally, once you have a deceased estate, there are only a certain number of people who can act, the executors take over, so we don’t have expressed authority to do the things we normally do.
“The ATO is stuck in the bind because the law requires them to have proper authority, but we got this unique situation where they haven’t actually stopped agents from accessing that information [in the portals], so we’ve got this scenario where you got two systems operating side by side and one that gives you access while the other one doesn’t.”
While agents are still able to toggle between both systems currently, the issue is set to come to a head once the tax and BAS agent portals are decommissioned sometime early next year.
Mr Greco, who is a member of the National Tax Liaison Group, said the ATO has acknowledged the issue and has put together a working group to find a solution.
The ATO is currently considering whether there is scope to provide agents access under the current law, and if an administrative solution cannot be implemented, to consider the use of the Commissioner’s Remedial Power.
The Commissioner’s Remedial Power allows the commissioner to modify the operation of tax law in circumstances where entities will benefit, or at least be no worse off, as a result of the modification.
“They’ve acknowledged the sensitivity around it and they’ve put together a working group to look at options to see if there’s anything that can be done other than a law change,” Mr Greco said.
“It could require a law change, and that is the worst-case scenario because our biggest concern is that it may take a long, winding process.”
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Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.