EXCLUSIVE: Xenophon set to escalate ATO downtime fight

South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon will be pursuing the ATO digital downtime through the Senate estimates process, and is mulling proposing compensation avenues for accountants to provide a “powerful incentive” for a permanent fix.

Mr Xenophon is calling on accountants to share their experiences with the ATO’s portals before the Senate estimates process commences in October, in an effort to address the “completely unacceptable” history of instability and unscheduled downtime the professional community is subject to.

“I want to hear from accountants to my office about particular issues they’ve had and what reasons they’ve been given. And I want to be able to advocate on behalf of accountants. It’s tough enough as it is for small-to-medium sized accounting firms without these portal problems, and there should be no excuse,” he told Accountants Daily.

Mr Xenophon will also be exploring compensation avenues for accountants who are affected by the persistent outages.

“We need to look at the tax office compensating accountants for the inconvenience. The tax office should be subject to service standards,” Mr Xenophon said.

“Having a statutory compensation scheme for these outages would be a powerful incentive for systems to work and not crash like this.

“If you’re a consumer and there’s an outage, you can get compensation after a certain number of hours with an outage. There needs to be some compensation here that doesn’t exist.”

Cases of disadvantage are dealt with via the Commonwealth’s Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration — known as the CDDA Scheme.

The ATO received a small number of claims following the major crash in December. It also used discretions and remedies available under the tax and superannuation laws, including deadline extensions.

Administrative concessions were also applied where taxpayers were unable to access the early payment discount for HECS/HELP debt due to the unavailability of services.

Shadow assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh, continues his calls for the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s intervention.

“There needs to be a review into the continued outages, backed by Malcolm Turnbull and carried out by the Inspector General of Taxation or another appropriate independent body,” Mr Leigh told Accountants Daily.

“We note the Auditor General has flagged a potential review into the IT outages, and would hope the scope and time frame of that inquiry delves into the effects and impact of outages on taxpayers and tax practitioners,” he said.

State of play

Late last year, the ATO committed to replacing the tax agent portal and improving the general experience of accounting professionals using its digital systems.

Accountants Daily understands this remains on hold as the ATO prioritises stabilising its systems to deal with tax time.

“Improvements to digital services are on hold until we have stabilised the performance of our systems for Tax Time 2017 to match the service and experience of last year. Tax agents can continue to engage with us via PLS, the existing Tax Agent Portal, and ELS,” an ATO spokesperson told Accountants Daily earlier this year.

The tax office has also committed to new and more tailored communication with industry stakeholders, in response to complaints that functionality updates were inaccurate for tax and BAS agents during the December outage saga in particular.

While some findings have been released, Accountants Daily understands that PwC’s independent report into the December outages has yet to be completed, and may not be until the end of the year.

The ATO was unable to provide comment by deadline. 

 

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