The government must learn from ATO mistakes in its plan to modernise business communications, and consult closely with small businesses and their advisers before implementing changes.
Steer clear of ATO blunders in business digital push, government told
The advice from Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and CPA Australia comes as the Treasury consults on modernising business communications by improving the technology neutrality of laws that fall within its portfolio.
Both bodies believe the government should look at the ATO’s clumsy handling of client and adviser communications as an example of why consultation with business intermediaries such as accountants and bookkeepers will be vital when developing digital communication processes.
Tax and BAS agent visibility over correspondence sent to clients was a sore point following the introduction of myGov, with the ATO eventually rolling out communication preferences after strong feedback from practitioners.
More recently, the Tax Office was forced to revert to issuing paper instalment notices for PAYG after failing to consult with the profession about the move to digital notices.
“As changes in the delivery of notices have been made, the intermediary experience has at times been negatively impacted due to unexpected or poorly understood alterations, often the result of poor consultation with the sector,” said CA ANZ and CPA Australia.
“This includes rules such as defaulting to digital communication after any form is lodged electronically with the ATO or not issuing notifications to intermediaries when a digital communication is sent to a taxpayer.
“Such communication breakdowns have led to missed notices, late payments, penalties and lost productivity.”
Consider small businesses first
The government has also been told that small businesses may find a shift to digital communications more challenging than their larger counterparts due to financial restraints and lower levels of digital literacy.
Both CA ANZ and CPA Australia believe a “one size fits all” digital approach will not be appropriate, considering there are many small business owners who may be older or based in remote areas where reliable internet connection is limited.
Instead, the government should actively support small businesses by improving their digital literacy and capabilities through increased funding, similar to other international jurisdictions like Singapore, Hong Kong and Spain that have invested millions in helping their small business community adopt new technologies.
Both bodies have also urged the government to alert small businesses of any technological changes well ahead of time to allow them to grapple with the changes.
“Australia will only enjoy the full benefits of modernising business communications and other government-led digital initiatives where the digital literacy and capacity of small business is improved,” said CA ANZ and CPA Australia.
“We recommend the development of a roadmap which guides business on digital transformation. This roadmap should outline what adopters can expect, the issues they are likely to face and how to overcome them.”