The Tax Practitioners Board has now begun investigating organisations that pose as reputable COVID-19 stimulus measures advice providers, who often claim to provide Jobkeeper, cash-flow boost or early access to superannuation advice that is “assured” by a registered tax agent.
While the TPB has chosen to withhold the name of these organisations amid its investigations, early findings have revealed that these organisations may have managed to snare businesses with thousands of employees.
Accountants Daily understands that some of these unregistered advice providers include those working in employment services, payroll or as general business consultants, and promote their services through social media channels on a “no benefit, no fee” basis.
“We are investigating organisations operating in this way to establish how, and which, services are being provided and whether they are in contravention of the law,” said TPB chair Ian Klug.
“We are concerned about protecting the consumers of taxation services as we know the accuracy of the advice given by unregistered agents is not reliable and there is no safe way to ‘assure’ advice by an unregistered tax adviser simply by involving a registered agent on the fringe of the business.
“If you are not a registered practitioner and your business is engaged in providing advice or services related to any of the COVID-19 stimulus benefits such as JobKeeper, cash boost or early release from super, you are in breach of the TASA [Tax Agent Services Act] and may be liable for a civil penalty imposed by the Federal Court.”
The TPB has also reported that these unregistered providers often require businesses or individuals to provide personal or confidential information, including tax file numbers or myGov logins.
Stolen personal information has been at the heart of a sophisticated fraud of the early access to super scheme, with ATO commissioner Chris Jordan alluding to the fact that tax agents’ systems may have been compromised as part of the fraud.
The TPB has now advised businesses or individuals unwittingly caught up in unfair contracts with businesses offering “assured” tax services to seek legal advice.
“Incorrect advice may prevent the full amount of the benefit from reaching its intended recipients. Also, incorrectly received benefits may have to be repaid and recipients may be liable for penalties and interest,” Mr Klug said.
Looking after its own backyard
The latest investigation from the TPB comes after the regulator warned registered agents that it would come down hard on those who helped clients defraud the COVID-19 stimulus package.
It has since set up a hotline and a tip-off mailbox to allow practitioners and the public to report on any potential schemes or about an unregistered advice provider.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand tax leader Michael Croker welcomed the TPB’s crackdown, while championing the roles that tax and BAS agents are continuing to play in delivering the government’s stimulus measures.
“Delivery of JobKeeper and cash-flow boost via the tax system highlights the important role tax and BAS agents play,” Mr Croker said.
“Tax concepts underpin much of the terminology used in the cash-flow boost and JobKeeper measures, and the instant asset write-off and investment boost measures are found in the tax law.
“The downsides of making false or incorrect statements to the ATO are substantial. The ATO integrity unit is out and about now investigating questionable claims for COVID-19 benefits.”
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.