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08 May 09 Yet more feedback on tax bonus payments

Yet more feedback on the ATO's handling of tax bonus payments.

MEMBER 1 writes: "On 11 March 2009 we indicated to the ATO that we wanted Option 1 so that all bonus cheques would go direct to the client. Two weeks ago I received a call (one of many calls on this issue) from a client asking what would happen to his bonus cheque. Confident that both I and my receptionist had both told the ATO we wished all bonus cheques to direct to the taxpayer, I told him his cheque would be mailed to his address. He then told me he had spoken to the ATO and was told it would go to my practice address. Sure enough I checked the tax agent portal and his cheque was due to go to my practice address. I changed it and checked another, it too was not changed. I then asked my receptionist to phone the ATO to find out what was happening. She was told all was well and the addresses would all be changed.

I have now received several bonus cheques. I phoned the ATO and despite the person on the other end having difficulty understanding English, we established that we had in fact notified the ATO we wished all bonus cheques to go directly to the client. The solution, 'We will escalate the complaint and someone will get back to you'. All too late, the damage is done. We again have to waste our time and money correcting ATO incompetence."

MEMBER 2 writes: "I remember reading that the ATO's budget allocation for the Tax Bonus was $50 million. I do not remember any allocation to Tax Agents. Why do we have to handle many client queries and/or process bonus cheques for no (mostly) or little recompense?"

MEMBER 3 writes: "We are finding that, with the ATO encouraging clients to advise it of their bank details for the payment of the tax bonus, if the client advises the ATO of their bank account details in the time between lodgment and assessment, we are no longer receiving client tax refunds for returns that were lodged containing our trust account details so we could be paid our fees.

When we called the ATO, effectively the response of their staff was "tough luck". You can't blame the ATO staff, I guess. In the arbitrary way this has been done by the Commissioner, it is obviously his view as well."

MEMBER 4 writes: "I agree - it is such a mess. On complaining to the ATO, I received a call back from an ATO officer - he said the Annamaria Carey email was not a change to procedures at all - it was simply a clarification of what the ATO has always known to be the position regarding the Tax Bonus Mail Out Procedures set in place in mid March.

I should have known that when I selected Option 1 "Send ALL tax bonus correspondence to the RESIDENTIAL address of the client" that that really meant send it to the POSTAL address for anything lodged after mid March - It is all my fault.

The ATO officer said that there is no change in Policy - I asked how can that could be when the ATO is now using the POSTAL address - isn't that different to the RESIDENTIAL address? No according to the ATO officer - so I asked why have two fields on the front of a tax return - why not have one field called "ADDRESS"? No answer.

The ATO officer said it was just not possible for the ATO computer to be programmed in such a way that it keeps doing what it was originally told to do (send everything to the client's residential address) - the ATO would, the officer said, have to go into the records of every Tax Agent in Australia every day to alter the address back to the residential address - I said to him that could not be true - why can't the computer, in relation to all tax bonus correspondence, just keep doing what it did yesterday - why has Annamaria Carey fiddled with the computer to tell it to start using the POSTAL address for anything that happened to be lodged after a certain date in March. WHY?????"

MEMBER 5 writes: "As stated by Member 1 in last week's TAXVINE - 'We have just received a Tax Broadcast email from Assistant Commissioner, Annamaria Carey, advising that for 2008 tax returns lodged after mid-March, the tax bonus will be sent to the postal address on the tax return or by EFT if the client has advised the ATO of their bank account details.' The ATO should be slammed for the change in policy. Why should we suffer the admin and postal costs of acting as the middleman?"

MEMBER 6 writes: "We have opted to receive all our clients' bonus cheques. We then open the envelopes and write our client a nice letter enclosing their cheques. Our clients thus eagerly await our mail as they know that they are getting their money. What a change from our normal correspondence informing our clients that they have to pay tax. For the small cost of postage and labour we have received a massive marketing opportunity where "we" are "giving" clients money. Thank you Kevin!"

MEMBER 7 writes: "I am wondering how much money, paper and effort is being applied to send to our office these letters to say which client has been paid their tax bonus by EFT. We have received 3 letters so far and each one has one - yes just one - client listed on each letter. For goodness sake, halt the printing presses and just make the list available on the Tax Agent Portal. It costs us time & money to process every one of these useless letters!!!"

MEMBER 8 writes: "I did not realise until receiving the 23 April 2009 edict from Annamaria Carey that my practice was conscripted into a distribution system for a government policy, which has nothing to do with me, or my business. This message was as offensive as it was presumptuous and the competence is also questionable. There is no apparent authority allowing the ATO to prevail upon the goodwill and co-operation of Tax Agents to administer this program. As with Centrelink, they have a fairly robust database, which would have been sufficient without the need to invoke additional administrative services to be voluntarily provided by Tax Agents. Late 2008 lodgers simply needed only to wait for their bonus payment to be delivered with their assessment.

It took some time prior to 12 March to have the "opt out" election lodged due to the extremely poor communication advice at that time and the poor navigation facility provided through the TAP. I was satisfied that we had successfully managed to deflect an avalanche of unwanted client enquiry and/or ATO mail to be re-directed. For a number of years we have insisted on electronic refunds direct to client bank accounts and over 95% of clients are converted. I was mildly perturbed when the "client list" promised by 12 March [in which adjustments could be made for the small remainder affected still to be lodged] was not available for download. I rang to enquire when this procedure might be completed and after 35 mins of waiting on the TPS FKC line was advised by a very apologetic "agent" that this feature had been abandoned due to "lack of resources". She apologised for the election lodgment difficulty; the lack of communication about the unavailability of my list; and the competence of her answer. I thanked her for her refreshing frankness - perhaps her Assistant Commissioner could have saved valuable time with another bulletin explaining the change in strategy for not providing the client lists.

The advice of 23 April indicates that the "opt out" election is not applicable for lodgments after "mid-March". This was not clearly evident in all the coercive faxes and bulletins prior to 12 March urging an election to be made beforehand. I sought clarification from TPS and was advised this was always to be the case [clearly I missed this important point].Most of our remaining lodgments do not have bank details, because they are the usual annual debit assessments that we hold over on request. I took particular exception to "What you need to do" to avoid cheques arriving at our office and the absurd suggestion in relation to changing addresses, especially when a real effort had already been made to avoid this circumstance. I advised that I wanted to make a complaint to the Assistant Commissioner and asked for a telephone number - this was not possible, however my "feedback" would be "considered", but could not be acknowledged. It is ironic that the new revamped Tax Practitioner Services Assistance program does not have a direct formal Complaints Resolution mechanism for this type of issue.

There needs to be a demonstrable recognition by the ATO in deed, not words, that Tax Agents will not be "dumped on" whenever they deem it expedient. We are not a department of the public service, as recent events continue to suggest. Perversely, we'll know this point has been acknowledged when a Tax Agent fee enquiry is announced! Then our relationship could be truly "valued".

Thank you TAXVINE for providing this forum at least."

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