Practitioners’ views of the ATO’s existing tax agent and BAS agent portals will be many and varied, but it is not too long a stretch to say that the outcomes for tax professionals from both of these portals has been found wanting on more than one occasion.
The ATO itself admits that the incumbent portals are based on ageing technology and have become increasingly difficult to maintain to meet expectations. Recognising that a new service is necessary, the ATO has launched an initiative to develop an improved online experience for practitioners, which it has dubbed “Online services for agents”.
Testing is currently being undertaken in a live environment under a “private beta” group testing scenario. Feedback from this will be used for tweaking the intended services before a public beta phase is opened up, which it is intended to be made open to practitioners so the ATO can gather wider feedback from the coalface. The existing portals will of course take care of business in the meantime, and the ATO says it will notify the practitioner community when the public beta testing phase is open, which should be in the first few months of 2019.
The ATO has committed to keep the portal features that it says previous feedback has confirmed are popular among existing users. But its new Online services to agents will also include many new offerings (depending on whether services offered to clients are tax or BAS agent services, but also depending on Access Manager permissions). New features may include:
- predictive search – allows you to search for a client from anywhere in the system using their name without having to enter their identifier, such as a TFN or ABN
- tax history – you have access to the details of your clients’ lodged income tax returns from 2010 onwards, even if you did not prepare or lodge the return
- progress of return – tax agents can check/monitor the progress of their client’s tax return in real time without needing to contact the ATO
- lodgment program performance – tax agents can see how they are tracking with their 85% on-time lodgment performance (updated weekly) and access two years of performance statistics
- super fund details – tax agents can see a consolidated view of all their individual clients’ super funds and balances, including the breakdown of their total super balance as at the last reporting date. This real time information gives them visibility of all super-related accounts in the ATO, including ATO-held super
- super functions – tax agents can view bring forward arrangement details including the remaining balance, transfer balance cap details and can lodge transfer balance account reports for their individual clients. They can also lodge elections for their clients for concessional, non-concessional and transfer balance caps.
- add client – you will no longer need to enter a client’s name exactly as it appears in the ATO system. You just need their identifier, and for individuals also their date of birth
- payment plans – you will have visibility of your client’s existing payment plans. You can also choose to make a payment plan for your client without contacting the ATO in most situations
- maintain authorisations – the ATO recognises the need for BAS agents to have joint access to a client’s record. You will easily see if another agent exists for your client and will be prompted before removing an authorisation for another agent (which will mitigate the risk of agents being removed in error)
- for action – when accessing a client record, you will see a list of your clients’ outstanding obligations that need action
- tax registrations – you can register, update and cancel fuel tax credits (FTC), wine equalisation tax (WET) and luxury car tax (LCT) in addition to GST and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) withholding
- consolidated summary of ATO accounts – view and print a summary of all ATO accounts held by your clients, including the balance and overdue amount in one place. This includes accounts that are not visible in the portals, such as the superannuation guarantee employer obligation
- multiple screens – you will be able to work in the system across multiple tabs.
The Online services for agents system will also allow ATO staff to have a replica view of the system with all of the data available to view should you find the need to make an enquiry. This will not be a screen sharing function, but rather simply to assist with queries.
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