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09 Aug 2019 ATO: Your wording could be better

MEMBER 206 writes: 

As part of the fallout from the recent Four Corners investigation into the questionable methods used by the ATO in debt collection, the following comments were made

“Our members assume the taxpayer they are working with is honest unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan insists we do this. But this is nothing new. Tax Commissioners D’Ascenzo and Carmody before him also insisted that we assume taxpayers are honest unless there was evidence to the contrary. 

The presumption that taxpayers are honest pervades the ATO. It is only when there is clear evidence that a taxpayer is misleading us that we might look more deeply into their tax affairs. This occurs in a very small minority of cases.” 

Why then is the ATO using the following wording in their recent correspondence: “We are reviewing a possible overstated and/or fraudulent claim”. 

Fraudulent? You’re assuming fraud before you even look into the return? What happened to the presumption of honesty that quote “pervades the ATO.” 

The first one I received I let slide because it was a large refund due to Primary Production losses, but I’ve just received another one and thought enough already. 

Dear ATO, please change the wording in your correspondence as it flies in the face of the quotes from your various Tax Commissioners. 

ATO response: 

The correspondence referenced is a service provided to agents to advise them that returns they have lodged have been delayed from the normal processing cycle. One of the reasons a return can be delayed is where the claims on the return appear to be over-inflated compared to similar clients, or our risk models have detected activities on the return or client’s account that indicate fraudulent activity maybe occurring. 

The cases identified by these models are reviewed by an ATO officer to validate the claims and the activities on the account to ensure we protect both the revenue base and client details from identity crime. Whilst the cases may have attributes that are consistent with known fraud attempts, the review process undertaken with the agent and/or client can normally resolve genuine lodgments and claims quickly, and allow the return to issue. 

Based on your feedback we will now review how we describe these cases on the correspondence we are sending to agents and our clients with the intention of changing the wording in the near future.

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