Speaking to AccountantsDaily's sister publication, SMSF Adviser, DBA Lawyers director Daniel Butler said one of the changes the ATO is looking at centralising is the management and production of guidance and advice.
“I imagine they’ll generate greater efficiency by centralising it, as well as consistency,” said Mr Butler.
“The other thing we’ve found in the past with ATO documents is that it might address one issue, but in addressing one issue you may get these experts in one particular field, but they’re not over the other fields so they might give an example in one area but that could conflict with the tax position in another.”
The ATO explained on its website that it aims to “improve the certainty of [its] advice and guidance by using more real world examples”.
It also announced that it will increase certainty by publishing more of its guidance in a form by which it is legally bound.
“For example, we will convert specific ATO interpretive decisions into forms of legally binding advice,” said the ATO.
“Complementing this process, we will revise our policies on levels of protection, our commitment statements, and introduce a maintenance program to keep our guidance current and up to date with ongoing changes.”
Mr Butler explained that some rulings, such as TR 2013/5, which laid out that if an SMSF trustee underpaid the minimum pension payment a pension would cease, took years to become a ruling.
“It’s a very substantial ruling and still the industry is not happy with that ruling,” he said.
He also referred to 2004/D3, which he said has never been finalised.
“That’s a draft that’s never been completed, but it’s been an important ruling for tax practice for many years and people still refer to that ruling,” he said.
“The other point to that is at times these rulings come out with a lack of consultation, so more consultation would be appropriate on a number of things. The ATO is changing its culture to get more material out more quickly, in more practical areas and also gearing up the website to deliver that information in a more timely manner.”
AMP SMSF’s head of policy, technical and educational services, Peter Burgess, said “any move to speed up the process of tax rulings is beneficial to the industry” and that he was therefore supportive of these moves proposed by the ATO.
“I think that’s a positive move in that it should result in consistency to the extent that we don’t have it at the moment; I think centralising these types of arrangements would result in consistent rulings being issued in the future,” he said.