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21 Nov 088 On ATO service (or lack thereof)

MEMBER 4 writes:

"Per the ATO broadcast of 12 November 2008 in relation to the ATO “…receiving a greater number of income tax returns than usual for this time of year” and the resultant processing delays, and possible reasons. There was no mention of hold-ups in the income matching unit. Is it possible that this unit is populated by tax officers who don’t appear to have been trained in basic tax and who are really just carrying out a call centre role?

I recently tried to circumvent the inevitable when I made my enquiry as to the whereabouts of the taxpayer’s substantial refund after 28 days – the usual response of an escalation request, and that after 14 days if I hadn’t heard that I should contact my Relationship Manager. I requested that the escalation include a note: “Please add Line 1 Label C (Salary) to Line 20 Label N (exempt foreign employment income) to add to PAYG Summary total as taxpayer remained on an Australian payroll while assigned overseas”.

Not sure if the additional information was included in the escalation request, but another 14 days have now passed, there is no assessment, no refund, and no enquiry from the ATO. I guess if I get really lucky and wait a bit longer a refund in the correct amount will issue. If I am unlucky I will get a notice of assessment not in accordance with the tax return as lodged and the taxpayer will then have the expense of preparing an objection.

Clearly different training standards apply to ATO employees when compared with those contemplated for employees of tax agents under the proposed tax agent services legislation. By the way, are there any country-based sole practitioner members who have actually had contact from their ‘Relationship Manager’?"

MEMBER 5 writes:

"This week it became necessary to contact the Relationship Management division of the ATO to request assistance in having a client’s amended assessments processed.  A very helpful and efficient officer took my contact details and details of my problem and advised that a case manager would contact me before close of business the next day. The purpose of the follow up call was for the case officer to introduce themselves and gather any extra information to start their review of my problems. No problems so far.

Of course the telephone call did not occur within the specified time frame, nor did it come the next day so I determined that I would follow up myself.

My second call to relationship management was answered by a different ATO officer who advised me that due to the current case workload for the relationship managers that it would be unlikely that I would get my follow up contact anytime soon. I asked why the first officer advised me that I would be called the next day and was informed that the ATO script required that was the assurance that I should receive notwithstanding whether it was correct or not! The second officer didn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that the standard response did not reflect actual outcomes – the standards words were said, job finished…next….

What has upset me is the careless dissemination of incorrect information from the ATO when it would be so easy to improve accuracy by amending this standard script for ATO officers. So, fellow practitioners, when talking to an ATO operative you may need to query whether a piece of advice or response you are being provided is as per the “ATO script” or has, in fact some grounding in reality.

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