The ATO on Tuesday urged tax agents to be aware of the support measures available to them coming into tax time, acknowledging the intensity thrust upon the accounting industry throughout the pandemic.
ATO deputy commissioner Hoa Wood said tax agents should be aware of the deferral options available to them, including agent and ATO-assessed deferrals.
“The type of deferral you can access will depend on how much extra time you require, and the kind of obligation you are lodging,” Ms Wood said. “You can submit a deferral request by lodging a completed application form through Online services for agents.”
For those who need added time to manage lodgements across their practices, Ms Wood said the ATO’s supported lodgement program could be suitable, particularly for practitioners who have sustained substantial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
“This program is designed for when you have been affected by issues such as ill-health, the loss of a key staff member, COVID-19, or if you are generally overwhelmed,” she said. “We will work with you to co-design a lodgement plan to help get your lodgement program back on track.
“You can request a supported lodgement program through Online services for agents Practice mail by selecting the topic Debt and Lodgement and then selecting the subject Supported lodgment program.”
Beyond online lodgement programs, the ATO has also extended various other support programs, including help for tax agents and their clients suffering serious hardship or adverse circumstances — spanning financial difficulty, serious illness and family tragedy — as well as mental health support, a complex issue resolution service, and a cash flow coaching kit.
“We can help with a range of other problems as well,” Ms Wood said. “There are other options available to provide support for your practice if you have complex issues you need resolved, are struggling due to your own wellbeing, or have been impacted by natural disasters.”
The ATO is set to release a range of tax time information in the coming days, along with the first of its tax time video series — returning after last year’s debut — next week. Ms Wood said the ATO will soon release its Tax Time Toolkits, too.
“You can expect to see our updated Tax Time information go live over the next few days on our website,” she said. “This will outline all the key information and changes for tax time this year and will be your one-stop shop for all the information you need on our website.
“We are also working hard putting the finishing touches on our Tax Time Toolkits for 2021. These handy guides have proven to be very popular and are a useful tool in guiding conversations with your clients.
“They provide a quick reference guide for a range of occupations with information on expenses you can and can’t claim, as well as common deductions like car and travel expenses.”
Ms Wood said the Tax Office recognises the strain tax time is likely to impose on the industry, and that her office is committed to ensuring that help is available and tailored to personal needs.
“We have decided to take this approach to recognise the varied needs of the profession, rather than applying a blanket offer that might not meet everyone’s needs,” she said.
The ATO’s messaging follows an announcement earlier this month, saying that it would look to support practitioners struggling to meet lodgement deadlines through a dedicated phone line linked to the tax agent lodgement program fast key code.
Feedback from the profession, however, revealed otherwise, as practitioners were turned away or directed to the ATO’s lodgement program support webpage.
ATO assistant commissioner Sylvia Gallagher last week told Accountants Daily that the issue has since been rectified, with call centre staff now briefed on the offer of support.
“We understand there has been some confusion about the nature of the service to be provided through the phone line and apologise for any inconvenience. We have updated our scripting to ensure this is clear,” Ms Gallagher said.
“For members of the tax profession who prefer to contact us via telephone, we have introduced a phone line that they can contact to seek a call back from our specialist team who will support them to put in place a tailored support arrangement.”
The ATO has advised that the phone number is 13 72 86, with fast key code 1 3 2.
Ms Gallagher, however, has urged practitioners to reach out through the ATO’s secure Practice mail channel.
“We recommend using this method as this is the fastest way to access the support required,” she said.
“We encourage tax practitioners to include preferred contact details and state that they require lodgement support in the subject line, as this will assist us to action these requests as a priority.”
The ATO’s offers of support come as tax practitioners continue to fall behind on lodgements after a year spent helping clients navigate through uncharted waters brought on by the pandemic.
A blanket lodgement deferral had been requested, but expectations were curbed after the ATO had refused to defer due dates during the height of COVID-19 last year.
John Buckley is a journalist at Accountants Daily.
Before joining the team in 2021, John worked at The Sydney Morning Herald. His reporting has featured in a range of outlets including The Washington Post, The Age, and The Saturday Paper.