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24 Oct 14 ATO Lodgment Working Group

On Wednesday 8 October 2014, Tax Counsel Thilini Wickramasuriya FTI attended a meeting of the ATO Lodgment Working Group. Going forward the Lodgment Working Group will be considering issues relating to the Portal as well as issues regarding tax practitioner consultation processes and the 85% rule in the Lodgment Program Differentiation Framework. Issues discussed included the following: 

  • The Tax Institute raised an issue regarding the short time frame to lodge FBT returns as compared to income tax returns and the resulting additional difficulty in meeting the 85% target for FBT returns. We sought an extension from 25 June to 7 July to lodge FBT returns. The ATO will consider the proposal and revert to the group.
  • The ATO will be conducting an official survey into the awareness, understanding and perception of the Lodgment Program Differentiation Framework among tax practitioners.
  • Members continued to raise concerns about the treatment of clients with prior year returns outstanding impact on their statistics under the Lodgment Program Differentiation Framework.
  • Members gave feedback about the performance correspondence sent to tax practitioners under the Lodgment Program. ATO will update these documents and provide to the group for comment.
  • Members gave feedback about an updated form for lodgment deferral requests. ATO will update these documents and provide to the group for comment.
  • ATO clarified that the Portal will not disappear, although it may be migrated to the ato.gov.au platform in future. The ATO will continued to provide all the functions on the Portal to the public. Some of these functions may also be provided by software developers in future.
  • Members noted that the initiative whereby practitioners are being directed away from ATO call centre services to Portal messaging would place additional pressure on the current slow processing times for Portal messages. ATO noted that practitioners should make sure that messages are categorised appropriately in the Portal by practitioners.  
  • Members noted that availability of the Portal impacts on tax practitioners’ ability to comply with the Lodgment Program. ATO noted that sometimes problems attributed the Portal are actually the result of issues with practice management software or other systems.  
  • The ATO directed practitioners to ato.gov.au which contains a table outlining the functions available on the Portal vs ELS. They will be updating this table to include further information on functions available through SBR.

The key messages from the meeting as published by the ATO are below:

Fringe benefits tax

The Tax Institute tabled a proposal to further extend the lodgment due date for annual Fringe benefits tax returns from 25 June to 7 July.

The ATO will undertake an assessment of the current and proposed arrangement to formulate a decision on providing a further extension of the lodgment date. This proposal will be carried over for discussion at the next meeting.

85% on-time lodgement benchmark

Understanding and perception of the Lodgment Program

The ATO will issue a communique to the community, which includes figures, outcomes and the work we are undertaking to respond to irritants around the Lodgment Program.

The ATO is preparing to undertake a formal survey to gauge agents’ perception and understanding of the Lodgment Program and to inform our strategies going forward.

Clients with multiple years outstanding

The ATO will further assist agents by making deferrals available to manage new or returning clients with multiple past year returns outstanding. This will be included in an updated deferral request form due to be released in November this year. It is intended for agents who have the capacity to service the new or returning clients.

Additionally, the ATO will highlight the availability of ATO support through targeted communication and development of a handbook for tax agents.

ATO lodgement letters (on-time performance letters)

The on-time performance letters were tabled for co design.  It was noted by the chair that these letters were up for review. Key design changes included:

  • The tone of letters is too harsh, for example the word ‘fail’ should be removed from all letters as this doesn’t support continual improvement.
  • Provide more specific links to on-time performance calculation.
  • Remove ‘similar sized practices’ and replace with a comparison against the practices’ previous on-time performance.

Portals

At the Future Tax Industry Limited Life working, portal stability and reliability was discussed. Feedback was sought on the major irritants with the portal.

Whist, portal outages are an irritant; it is not always a problem with the Portal itself and typically results in a reduction in function, rather than a complete failure of function.

The Chair confirmed that the Agent Portals will be continuing. The Portals are dated software solutions and the ATO will progressively build the priority portal services in ATO Online.

The transition to ATO online is intended to be mostly seamless to practitioners, as ATO Online will be accessed the same way as practitioners access the Portals. The only difference being a more reliable and improved service.

The ATO is working with software developers and professional associations to make the services and experiences currently in the portal, available to software developers; in turn software developers will be able to offer preferred services in their practice management software.  

The Chair will ensure that a clear communication around the future of the Portals is developed and the Professional Associations will provide input. 

Members seeking further information in relation to the above should contact us at taxpolicy@taxinstitute.com.au.