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02 Sep 11 More on dealing with the ATO

MEMBER 157 writes:

"I regularly read Members Feedback and whilst I share some of the frustrations about dealing with the ATO, I would like to state that many of our recent dealings with the ATO have actually been efficiently handled and have resulted in valuable assistance provided by the ATO officers involved. The nature of these calls has varied from technical legislative interpretation, including guidance on relevant rulings and IDs, BAS/IAS lodgment issues, SGC payment arrangements and electronic lodgment/Digital certificate problems.

In the majority of cases our queries and problems have been successfully resolved. Admittedly, we have had to invest more time on some issues than others, but in most cases, we have found the ATO officers to be polite, helpful and, dare I say it, understanding of our client's situations. Whilst we still have the odd difficult case in our dealings with the ATO, it appears that many of the ATO officers do seem to be very helpful."

MEMBER 158 writes:

"One of the biggest time wasters in our office is countering and correcting advice provided to taxpayers from ATO call centres. I understand that in many instances that clients do not give the full story and as a result flawed or misguided advice is the result but given the government is imposing higher standards of accountability for Tax Agents via the Tax Practitioners Board should we not be asking that the ATO be held to higher standards in the provision of advice? If an ATO officer fails to collect all relevant information in relation to an enquiry and/or fails to give accurate or correct advice then the ATO needs to be held to account for that malpractice just as we are liable to be held account. Or does the government only want to protect the consumer from Tax Agents and not its own departments?"

MEMBER 159 writes:

"Quietly sitting at my desk consulting my increasingly used crystal ball to determine the net profits all my trust clients have made this year so that the appropriate trust distribution minute can be determined, forwarded & executed before 31 August - this being the deadline the ATO in its infinite graciousness has grudgingly allowed to we poor tax agents. The ATO has again sadly shown its ignorance of how the real business world works - the idea of having all your trust clients lined up like little ducks to complete their tax work to determine distributable net profits before 31 August each year just flies in the face of reason. This is especially so given that many trusts are investment trusts who invest in other public investment trusts whose year-end taxation statements are not even received yet!

Incidentally we did finally receive our client's delayed 2011 individual income tax assessment which was held up due to the ATO perceived & communicated belief that our client was involved in possible tax fraud or identity theft. There was, of course, no explanation of the delay nor much less any skerrick or hint of an apology concerning the ATO's mistaken written contention of wrong-doing by our client. The editor's note in last week's Feedback is both telling and chilling in its statement that ultimately the management (if you can call it that) of the ATO is in the hands of the Commissioner and his senior staff. Our professional bodies can liaise as much as they want with the ATO but the Commissioner reserves the right to ignore them at his leisure is the real message."

MEMBER 160 writes:

"I agree with the many other practitioners who are completely frustrated by the ATO, the systems and enormous waste of hours we spend trying to deal with this bureaucracy:

1) Lodged simple I return with PAYG Payment Summary and rental property. No large deductions or anything out of the ordinary with the rental. Received ATO letter advising that the return is to 'be reviewed as it has been identified as containing some information we want to further investigate'. Processing will be delayed for a MINIMUM of 12 weeks 'whilst we conduct our investigations'. The letters then go on about fraudulent activities, 'many instances of penalty' etc. The client was rightfully completely shocked and horrified when they received the letter. Telephone call(s), as there have been many, provided no response from the ATO. They read out from a prepared response card and refuse to provide any information as to why, what or when accept to advise that we should call back after the 12 weeks' time -some 3 months later - to make further enquiry, at which time I expect we will get a standard response that the matter will be looked into within our service standard 30 day time frame!! By the way should the ATO contact us they require us to provide information instantly or within 7 days!! I fully understand the need to maintain integrity of the tax system and the requirement for ATO review/audit etc, but they need to provide more information and the 12 week minimum time frame is disgrace. Imagine if we advised the ATO that we needed 3 months minimum to reply to their requests!

2) The new POI procedures are a nightmare. Who was the bright spark at the Tax Practitioners Board who suggested that all registration numbers become public, thereby starting the problems in the first place? Maybe a new system whereby we have a different unique number to make ATO enquiries... I know, more bureaucracy. Also have come across many ATO staff who do not know the procedures for POI as we commonly advise them that we do not have any ATO correspondence issued within the last 2 years with a unique ID number (anything like this usually goes directly to the client or is in our filing system) which usually results in us having to explain to the ATO that there are other forms of acceptable POI and read off the ATO guide sheet.

3) ATO staff NEVER EVER return telephone calls, even after promising to you over the telephone that they will return the call! I think in 20+ years of practice I could count on one hand how many times I have received a returned telephone call! Just basic poor service from people who don't seem to give a dam.

4) ATO debt collection outsource agencies, ringing us to request clients pay their debts when the information is usually incorrect or out of date. They have no client details or cannot provide to me satisfactory POI so I refuse to continue with the calls.

It seems that the whole system and bureaucracy is a mess and the previous good relationship with practitioners is declining very fast. It also appears that the ATO has no idea of these shortcomings or the rapid decline in confidence that it is facing.

Arrrr, the life of a tax agent."

THE TAX INSTITUTE'S TAX COUNSEL TAMERA LANG ADVISES:

We have raised tax agents' dissatisfaction with the lack of information about pre-assessment reviews and the associated minimum 12 week delay with the ATO at senior levels. The ATO has informed us that they will be writing to affected tax agents to inform them why their client/s' tax returns have been subject to a pre-assessment review, and what (if any) additional substantiation is required. We understand that any phone calls from affected agents will be directed to compliance officers that are better able to address agent concerns. The Tax Institute is continuing to pass on our members' concerns to the ATO, and work with the ATO to ensure that pre-assessment reviews proceed swiftly and efficiently. Further information on the pre-assessment review process can be found in last week's edition of TaxVine.

The Tax Institute is continuing to closely monitor the situation, and we welcome concerned agents to contact us at TaxPolicy.


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