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04 Oct 2019 ATO recognition of a tax agent

MEMBER 267 writes: 

Referring to Member 260’s comments (TaxVine 37, 27 September) and their reference to “… what part of the word ‘agent’ in tax agent, does the ATO not get? If clients appoint us as agent, they are appointing us to deal with the ATO on their behalf which includes receiving and interpreting all communications.”  

I also want to emphasise this so that Member 260’s comments are clearer to the Commissioner and his staff, and for the professional bodies to reinforce at their meetings with ATO. 

As tax agents, we comply with substantial obligations – to firstly obtain a tax agent licence and to then maintain it. We are tertiary educated (or equivalent), we have professional designations, obligations of ongoing CPDs, maintain standards of professional insurance. We, and I expect virtually all tax agents, have written engagements with our clients. 

The tax returns we lodge very clearly confirm the agent position – the declarations, in at least a couple of areas, specifically refer to the tax agent. Our tax agent position has legislative and common law authority. The client gives and consents to our authority to attend, and it is therefore imperative that we properly receive correspondence.  

In the past, there was a client preference function. However, this was never really applied or followed, and it sounds from Member 260 that there is doubt as to whether there is proper recognition of tax agents in the new system. 

Just as clear and blatant on the tax return is the address for correspondence. So why in the world with correspondence does the Commissioner show disregard for our legal standing with our clients? 

I suggest it is rude at its simplest, more so contemptuous, that the Commissioner continues to put in place systems that ignore / circumvent our legal position with clients. 

I expect the response is the ATO has feedback that tax agents do not want junk mail to have to forward to clients, so the ATO is doing us a favour by sending correspondence directly to clients. If it is junk mail, don’t produce it. If we think the matter is important to a client, we can choose how to communicate with our client.  

And to claim we have a communication history function so it is all okay is obtuse. The communication history function is not complete, and it is silly to think we are going to continually browse our clients’ accounts to look for correspondence, just in case the ATO has sent something out. We cannot do that for hundreds (a couple of thousand in my case) of clients. 

Perhaps the Commissioner can properly recognise our position as agent in all facets of his administration, especially with the design of automated systems.

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