As part of the ATO’s recent quarterly update, agents will now have access to the new communications preferences function in Online services for agents, close to a year after the ATO started beta testing with 4,000 agents.
The new communication preferences function will allow agents to choose for ATO communication to either be sent to their practice via a new client mail inbox in Online services in agents, or to be sent directly to their client through their myGov inbox.
Clients who opt for communication to be sent directly to their agent will no longer receive notifications that they have mail from the ATO but can still view their communications in their myGov inbox.
Tax agents can choose between six communication types they want to receive directly, including income tax, activity statement related, study and training support loans, superannuation, debt, and employer and business obligations.
BAS agents can only set communication preferences for activity statement related and debt communications.
A caveat with the new communications preferences function is that agents will be required to obtain clear and written authorisation from a client before setting or changing their preference.
Speaking on Accountants Daily Live, ATO assistant commissioner Colin Walker said the new function would help overcome the frustration felt by the profession ever since myGov was first introduced.
“myGov was a really difficult time for practitioners because essentially what it did was that when a client signed up for myGov and linked the ATO, we, like other departments in that system, started to send the digital communications to the myGov inbox,” Mr Walker said.
“What it did was it took the agent out of the equation, the agent didn’t have visibility of those communications that were going through.
“So, we created a client communication list and that at least gave us visibility. But as the commissioner said at the time, that’s really not the answer. That’s the Band-Aid.
“The preferencing of communications… essentially undoes the myGov problem.”
Agent concerns over myGov communication visibility have spiked over the last year as up to 4 million taxpayers were expected to sign up to myGov following the introduction of the Single Touch Payroll regime, making end-of-year payment summaries redundant.
Instead, payment summary information is now called an “income statement” and can only be accessed through a taxpayer’s myGov account or through their tax agent.
While the new communications preferences function has been tipped to solve the visibility issue, Mr Walker has warned that the law first requires agents to obtain written authorisations from their clients before they act on their behalf.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way the law is structured — the law requires a written authorisation,” Mr Walker said.
“That can be emailed by the way and it can be in the normal engagement letter. Make those decisions, but that will at least mean that the agent will get those communications that they need to see.”
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.