On 1 April, PLS became the only electronic channel to lodge individual tax returns, following a staggered implementation process since 1 April 2017 that has seen company tax returns, trust tax returns, SMSF annual returns, fund income tax return, partnership returns, and FBT returns move over to the PLS.
The ATO is seeking to phase out the electronic lodgement service (ELS), with it being turned off on a form-by-form basis, and is hoping to transit activity statements by the end of this calendar year.
Speaking on the ATO’s live webcast, assistant commissioner Andrew Watson said 65 per cent of 2017 individual income tax returns have been lodged through PLS prior to 1 April, and he has advised tax agents to communicate with their digital service provider (DSP) for any service updates.
“We are well over halfway towards the target to be completely in PLS. Since the start of tax time last year 1 July 2017, we had 4 million returns coming through the channel,” said Mr Watson.
“Make sure you are reading communications from your service providers — some of you may have an update to install to enable you to have PLS capability from 1 April.
“Some of you, if you have a cloud provider, there is probably nothing you need to do because the magic will be behind-the-scenes,” he added.
“But look at the information your digital services provide you on your particular product to ensure you have the latest software version.”
However, the transition for activity statements has been less smooth, with around 60 per cent of statements still being lodged through ELS so far.
Mr Watson said work is still being done with DSPs to ensure a complete transition to the PLS but is confident that activity statements will make the move by December.
“From an ATO point of view, we are fine with that because we know all those providers are committed to that yearning to finish off transitioning out of ELS into PLS,” said Mr Watson.
“We are working with the digital providers around when we switch those forms off.
“At this stage, we will confirm shortly with the tax agents, but we are looking at the end of this calendar year or around 15 December, just before the end of the calendar year, to finish that move for activity statements.”
ATO systems stability
Tax agents have expressed their concerns over the transition to the PLS, with Thomson Reuters tax consultant Terry Hayes pointing to criticisms from the industry over the ability of the tax office’s system to handle the change.
Conceding that it was a “big change” from ELS to PLS, Mr Watson said there were times the ATO would have to bring its systems down to implement change but noted it would try to limit it to the graveyard hours on the weekend.
“There are times, in the short term to implement some of these releases, we need to make systems unavailable,” said Mr Watson.
“The ATO has a longer-term work program around what are the key systems that if we could have them at greater levels of availability to increase the availability time for key transactions and services and the PLS has been identified as one of those.
“As you might appreciate from the size of the ATO's systems and their variety plus the length of time we have been around, that is not a quick process, and it needs to be stepped through carefully,” he added.
“My message is towards registered agents — there are hundreds if not thousands of developers and engineers in the digital providers and the ATO who have been working on PLS together for years. We have your back on this. It will be ready for you, and we are confident that as a community we can deliver buildable experiences for agents.”