Accountants Daily has confirmed that the ATO will no longer provide lodgement statistics, including the breakdown split between tax agent-prepared returns and returns lodged through myTax, on a weekly basis.
The unilateral decision was announced to the Tax Practitioners Stewardship Group (TPSG) in early July, catching both members and the professional bodies off guard.
The move was followed by the ATO announcing that it had recorded the “biggest 1 July ever”, receiving over 1.7 million individual tax returns in the first two weeks of July, a 12 per cent increase on the same period last year.
H&R Block director of tax communications Mark Chapman, who sits on the TPSG, said the ATO’s refusal to share lodgement statistics was a breach of transparency that it owes to tax practitioners.
“Until early July 2020, the ATO published a breakdown of all tax return lodgements split between agent-lodged returns and myTax-lodged returns, with comparative figures for the same dates last year,” Mr Chapman told Accountants Daily.
“The ATO now refuses to publish these figures, although we believe from other public commentary from the ATO that overall lodgements are up by about 12 per cent this year, presumably all through myTax.
“Tax practitioners use these figures to provide a benchmark gauge of how they are performing against the market as a whole, against the rest of the tax agent market and against myTax.
“Without these figures, agents are effectively ‘driving blind’ — we can see how our own business is tracking, but we have no way of comparing that with the rest of the market, which gives us no opportunity to identify market underperformance or to rectify that if identified.”
Tax agent-prepared returns have been in decline in recent years, with 69.8 per cent of individuals using a tax agent to lodge in the 2017–18 income year, down from 74.2 per cent in 2013–14.
“Whether the ATO accepts it or not, myTax is a competitor to tax agents — and a competitor that is government-funded and managed by an organisation with a monopoly position within the market,” Mr Chapman said.
“These statistics provide one of the few ways for us to monitor what is happening in the market. The ATO possesses and controls data pertaining to the market, and because they also act within the market, there is an onus to be transparent with the data.
“This is a clear breach of the duty of transparency that the ATO owes to the tax practitioner community and the community at large.”
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.