The Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman’s (IGTO) annual report has revealed that one in four of all complaints it receives is about the ATO’s debt collection action.
Complaints around outstanding or delayed payments to taxpayers, including tax refunds and remitting superannuation amounts to superannuation funds, account for the next most common issue at 14 per cent.
Lodgement and processing issues were next at 12 per cent, followed by concerns around audit and review activities at 7 per cent, and complaints over ATO communications at 7 per cent, rounding up the top five most common issues.
IGTO Karen Payne had earlier hinted that debt collection would be the focus of one of her first reviews on the job.
“Without giving anything away, the area of debt collection is one area that I am very interested to go back and revisit as one of my first reviews,” Ms Payne said earlier this month.
However, while acknowledging that complaints data provides a rich source for analysis and identification of themes and areas for potential review, the IGTO believes reviews are not the only way to spur action at the ATO.
Instead, it believes Agreed Business Improvements (ABI) with the ATO can help deliver more prompt action over a formal review but notes that it will escalate its work to a review if dissatisfaction persists in the community.
“During the course of a complaint investigation, the ATO or the TPB may acknowledge that there is an opportunity for improvement and an ABI may emerge without the need for the IGTO to conduct a formal review,” the IGTO said.
“Another possibility is that the ATO or TPB may acknowledge an issue but offer to conduct their own review before the IGTO takes further action. Such an approach may deliver more prompt action to benefit a broader range of taxpayers.”
The year ahead
The IGTO has yet to reveal its work program for the current financial year but notes four potential reviews that were identified in its previous work program but were not progressed due to “resourcing constraints as well as competing priorities”.
These include Influencing Willing Participation in the Tax and Superannuation Systems; ATO Advice and Guidance; Fraud or Evasion Opinions; and Research and Development.
“The IGTO will consider topics previously suggested, previously mentioned companion report research, themes emerging in complaints data and feedback from our stakeholders to prioritise issues for review,” the IGTO said.
Despite previously acknowledging the significant funding constraints experienced in her office, Ms Payne has called for tax practitioners and their clients to come forward and share their experiences so that it can take a business case to government.
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.