Tax & Super Australia (TSA) says the ATO Corporate Plan for 2021-22 is worryingly scant on details for how it will work with tax practitioners, despite this group of professionals being critical to the taxation system’s successful operation.
Millions of Australians and small businesses rely on tax agents to help them through tax system complexity. Yet despite the high interaction between tax professionals and the ATO, the corporate plan barely mentions them. This is both perplexing and discouraging for the profession, says TSA tax counsel John Jeffreys.
“In the section of the corporate plan titled ‘Cooperation’, we would expect some detail about how the ATO will work with tax agents for the benefit of its administration – and also for the benefit of the individuals and businesses that rely on these professionals,” Mr Jeffreys said.
“Yet it only includes a glancing reference to tax agents through the term ‘intermediaries’. This lack of detail could be seen as confirmation of a systemic problem within the ATO about how it views tax agents.”
Also of note, is the corporate plan’s ‘Strategic Initiative’ section. The ATO states that one initiative is to ‘Optimise interactions through our self-service channels’ and to ‘Create better experiences, making self- service channels the preferred option for most clients and their agents’.
While the ATO’s intent with self-service channels is to streamline administration, feedback from TSA members is that this unfortunately does not always occur. “This is largely because the tax system is so complex and the ATO website is difficult to navigate unless you are an experienced tax professional or you know what you are looking for,” Mr Jeffreys said. “Even then, there are significant pain points.”
In a recent survey, TSA members reported that they felt the ATO did not understand the pressures tax agents face. They also expressed frustration about what they saw as the ATO exercising double standards by enforcing tight deadlines on tax agents, yet taking weeks or months to respond to tax agent queries.
The critical role that tax professionals play to help businesses and individuals navigate the tax system (and an uncertain economy) was further highlighted during the past year, and also now as lockdowns continue.
Indeed, senior ATO officials praised the efforts of tax professionals during the pandemic. Yet these sentiments are at odds with its corporate plan’s lack of reference to tax professionals.
Tax & Super Australia calls upon the ATO to develop a plan for how the relationship between tax agents and the ATO can be enhanced. “This would improve the administration of the tax system immeasurably. The ATO should view a fully-efficient tax agent community as fundamental to the Australian tax system.”
For further comment, please contact TSA tax counsel John Jeffreys: Mobile:0416250461 Email:firstname.lastname@example.org