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‘We’re listening to tax professionals’, says ATO

The Tax Office says it has worked to address the pain points in the tax profession to reduce the friction between them and the ATO.

Tax&Compliance Malavika Santhebennur 03 March 2022
— 3 minute read

The ATO’s acting assistant commissioner, Sylvia Gallagher acknowledged that the relationship between the ATO and tax agents has been tumultuous in the recent past but said there has been a concerted effort to repair this relationship.

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“I think there’s always going to be friction of some sorts,” she told Accountants Daily.

“We administer the tax system, so tax professionals have the right to challenge the way we administer that. They have a right to understand their client’s situation and advocate for them on their behalf. We respect that and try to work with the profession to make sure that we’re meeting the commitments of the government and the community.”

Ms Gallagher’s comments have preceded the Accountants Daily Strategy Day in Melbourne next week, where she will provide key insights into top compliance issues the ATO will be focusing on this financial year, updates on ATO systems changes and initiatives, and a breakdown of key projects, the development pipeline, and what outcomes practitioners could expect.

Ms Gallagher – who previously stressed that the ATO is “absolutely not out to get tax agents” – pointed out that it is listening to and collaborating with tax professionals to meet their requirements.

“I think that’s evidenced by the fact that there’s an assistant commissioner whose sole job it is to work with tax professionals,” she explained.

“There’s a whole branch that sits under that assistant commissioner to make sure that we’re listening.”

Ms Gallagher outlined that the Tax Office introduced online services and implemented new systems to resolve some of the issues faced by tax agents including storage area network (SAN) outages.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in online services because agents told us that the old systems were archaic and needed something new,” she said.

“We co-designed the concept of online services by working together with professional associations, and our agents have come in for consultation. We’ve also heard from people at different conferences. Everyone contributed to the systems and services that are in place now for tax professionals.”

The ATO has released resources including instructional videos around how agents could use the updated online services, including setting up a payment plan for clients.

“Traditionally, you’re asked to call the ATO to set up a payment plan for your client, and we know that that takes time, which can be quite frustrating,” Ms Gallagher said.

“So, we’re looking at doing how-to videos for these simple tasks that weren’t in the old portal but have been introduced in the online services.”

The relationship between the ATO and tax practitioners has been tested in the past after Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan criticised agents for failing to be “guardians of the system” while releasing tax gap reports that said returns prepared by agents required more adjustments than self-prepared returns.

The ATO’s 2021-22 corporate plan was also slammed for failing to recognise the role of the tax profession in administering the tax system and what the ATO was doing to support them.

Ms Gallagher said she is hopeful that there is recognition that the ATO has been attempting to “fix any irritants” for tax professionals.

“When we started our reinvention program, we heard from tax professionals that we should just fix the basics and leave them alone to do their jobs,” she said.

“I hope that weve been able to do that through all the work that we’ve done over the last few years.”

During her session at the Accountants Daily Strategy Day, Ms Gallagher will provide progress updates on the Lodgment Program Review Working Group, which was formed to identify potential issues, irritants, gaps, and opportunities to improve the administration of the lodgement program.

Tax agents will also hear about the educational resources available to them on how to use the new online services system.

“We’ve realised that practitioners have not been using a lot of functions to their full potential so we’ll provide guidance on what they could do online, which they may not necessarily be aware of,” Ms Gallagher concluded.

To hear more from Sylvia Gallagher about the key projects, compliance issues, and initiatives that the ATO will be focusing on in financial year 2021-22, come along to the Accountants Daily Strategy Day in Melbourne on 9 March.

Click here for more information about the strategy day.

‘We’re listening to tax professionals’, says ATO
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