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On Friday 21 February 2014, Tax Counsel Stephanie Caredes CTA and Tax Counsel Thilini Wickramasuriya ATI attended a meeting of the ATO Tax Practitioner Advisory Group (ATPAG). Various issues were discussed at the meeting including a change in format of the ATPAG meetings going forward.

Issues discussed included:

  • The ATO considering the use of video-conferencing, telephone conferences and shorter more focused meetings including on a needs basis for consultation with tax practitioners instead of the traditional face-to-face quarterly meetings.
  • ATO is seeking to increase the consistency of its compliance approach to substantiation of travel allowances by educating ATO officers and shortly issuing a Decision Impact Statement on this issue.
  • Professional associations raising concerns about the requirement to disclose the income of non-resident spouses. ATO indicated that this information has to be disclosed to lodge electronically but an estimate based on reasonable enquiries should suffice.
  • ATO is working towards ceasing a generation of paper activity statements and limiting the issuance of cheques in favour of EFT.
  • Limited Life Working Group which was established to fix key issues with the ATO website has completed its work.

Following the meeting, the ATO issued these key messages:

1. Increasing electronic interactions

The ATO continues to consult with and provide information to tax practitioners on initiatives to increase electronic transactions and interactions between the ATO and our customers.

Electronic payments

  • The fastest, most secure and cost-effective way for clients to receive their refund is to have it paid directly into a nominated Australian financial institution account (FIA) using electronic funds transfer (EFT).
  • From 1 July 2013, individual income tax returns completed in ELS and e-tax were required to include Australian FIA details where a refund was estimated.
  • The ATO was pleased with the way that agents and individuals managed the transition. During the first four months of Tax Time 2013, there was a clear increase in electronic refunds from 76% in 2012 to 97% in 2013.
  • From 1 July 2014 the requirement to provide FIA details will be extended to the following electronic lodgments:

–      FBT return (from 1 April 2014)

–      Company income tax return

–      Trust tax income tax return

–      SMSF annual return

–      Fund income tax return

–      Application for refund of franking credits

–      Strata title body corporate tax return

  • In instances where practitioners do not operate a trust account and the client doesn’t have a bank account the ATO will work with these practitioners on a case-by-case basis.
  • Tax practitioners can continue to assist with the transition by:

–      obtaining correct, up-to-date bank details from clients each year.

–      updating business practice to operate without cheques for non-individual tax lodgements

  • The ATO will continue to consult with tax practitioners and software providers to gain a full understanding of any potential issues.

Electronic distribution of activity statements

  • Each year the ATO sends out over 4.3 million paper activity statements which are subsequently lodged electronically.
  • At the end of June this year the ATO plans to stop issuing paper activity statements to clients or their representatives if the previous statement has been lodged via an electronic channel.
  • These changes are in line with what already occurs if an activity statement is lodged via ECI, the Business Portal and for non-agent SBR lodgments with one key difference – currently if we do not have a client’s email address, we do not stop the paper activity statement issuing. We plan to change this process and stop sending the paper to all electronic lodgers regardless of whether we have an email address captured or not.
  • A pilot conducted with tax practitioners who had previously utilised paper activity statements within their practice in some way, were able to cope with the change and still manage their client relationships and obligations.
  • The ATO will continue to consult with tax practitioners that operate within a fully electronic business model to identify key suggestions for other practices to assist them to prepare for and manage the transition.
  • In coming weeks we plan to consult with tax practitioners in relation to our proposed communication strategy to ensure that planned messages meet the needs of the audience, are timely and are delivered via the most appropriate channels.
  • Tax practitioners can continue to assist with the transition by preparing their own and client’s business practices to operate without paper activity statements.

2. ATO website 

Following the ATPAG meeting in September 2013, the ATO established the ATO website limited life working group. Professional associations are represented by Mark Morris, Norman Kang, Stephanie Caredes and Tony Greco.

The three (3) key focus areas of the working group have been addressed and resolved:

Printer friendly functionality

  • The new print friendly functionality was released in December 2013.
  • This functionality provides an icon on the content page that allows users to print either the page they are viewing or the entire document.

Broken links

  • The ATO has resolved the root cause of the issue with broken links.
  • The majority of broken links have been corrected.
  • Broken links can be reported to the ATO via the website feedback form located at the bottom of each page.

Search function

  • The ATO has resolved some issues with the basic search function including NAT number searches and quick code searches.
  • The ATO are working with Google to continue to enhance the search functionality for the site.
  • Further improvements are expected progressively through 2014.

The outcomes of the ATO website limited life working group have been achieved and the working group will now be dissolved.

3. ATO Open Regional Forum program 

The ATO is continuing to support and engage with tax practitioners in regional areas with our series of Open Regional Forums.

A high proportion of regional and remote tax practitioners have limited engagement opportunities with the ATO in the main due to geographic limitations. The forums provide the opportunity to raise issues of concern in their region and for the ATO to deliver key messages to practitioners.

In 2013-14 forums have been held in Albury NSW, Launceston TAS, Berri SA and Cairns QLD.

The ATO contacts a number of local tax practitioners prior to the forums to enable us to tailor discussion and address issues specific to the region. A typical agenda would include:

  • Tax Practitioner Action Plan
  • Support and services for tax practitioners
  • Lodgment performance
  • Support for individuals and businesses with tax debt
  • Support for Small Business

Separate sessions are held for Tax and BAS Agents to support tailored messages and discussion.

Four further Open Regional Forums are planned for this financial year around Australia, with the next being scheduled for Ballarat VIC on 13 March 2014. Tax professionals from the Ballarat region wishing to attend this forum should contact

Members who seek further information in relation to the above should contact us at Tax Policy.