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16 Mar 12 More on direct client contact by ATO

MEMBER 50 writes:

"I refer to the ATO eLink issue dated the 29th Feb 2012, the first item.

It says the ATO is to phone clients who have a tax loss for the first time in the 2010 year. I ask The Tax Institute (TTI) to protest in the strongest terms to the ATO for making contact, especially by phone.

Some reasons are:

  • Contacting our clients while we are engaged as the Tax Agent is clearly disrespectful/disregarding/unprofessional to our legal engagement as a Tax Agent with a client.
  • Contacting a client direct and not a Tax Agent also disregards the status of a Tax Agent's registration under the Tax Practitioners Board.
  • The client will expect their Tax Agent to be the first point of contact on any issue to do with an ITR lodged by the Tax Agent.
  • From prior experience contacting the client direct will suggest to them (1) The ITR is wrong or (2) The loss shouldn't be claimed or (3) the Tax Agent has made an error otherwise why would the ATO contact them direct?
  • The ATO is going to be contacting clients about the 2010 year, this will confuse a client, why would the ATO phone now about the 2010 year, why leave it so late?
  • The ATO is going to call a client 'out of the blue' and start to talk about specific tax issues that a client will not be in a position of knowledge to talk about. Clients have much more important current issues than a tax loss two years ago, they are not going to have any creditable detailed information to be able to supply during a phone call.
  • The ATO is going to provide guidance over the phone, who is going to have a record of this advice? Is the ATO going to record the advice given and information received and supply it to Tax Agents (or do we apply for FOI each time it happens, lots of FOI requests, but necessary if ATO is receiving info that it is going to rely upon, or giving info the client wants to rely upon)
  • How does the client satisfy themselves the person is properly from the ATO, how are ATO Officers going to satisfy any Proof of Identity?

It has always been rude and arrogant to send ITR related mail direct to clients, ignoring the postal address on the ITR.

It is significantly ruder and more arrogant to phone a client about a specific tax matter ignoring the Tax Agent engaged. It is rubbish and nonsense that you want to help Tax Agent clients, you will scare people into not claiming losses or having doubt of losses claimed.

The ATO certainly is not going to help Tax Agents by them having to field phone calls about why the ATO has called a client direct about something that happened two years ago.

The effect of the current 'educational' letters to clients about their deductions only scares people to claim less or raises doubt that the Tax Agent knows what they are doing. I expect the ATO knows that people claim less after they receive these letters and that is why so many are sent out now.

The rhetoric the Commissioner uses about helping Tax Agents and them being valuable is rubbish when we look at how his staff treat us, and this is one example.

Of course the challenge is for the TTI, CPA and CA to do something about this type of nonsense."

MEMBER 51 writes:

"If I were a lawyer, and served notice on the ATO that the address for service of notice of my client was my office address, then I would be reasonably assured that any correspondence issued to my client would be delivered to my office, not to my client.

I fail to see why tax agents are any different - the ATO has been notified that the address for service of notice is, in most cases, the business address of the tax agent - correspondence should be delivered to that address for service, both as a matter of professional courtesy, but also as a matter of legality.

That being said there are some charlatans amongst the tax agent profession who do not pass information/correspondence onto clients; for some agents, that includes refund proceeds. I therefore have some sympathy for the bureaucrats at the ATO, who can only be trying to weed out those tax agents who should not be licensed to act for others, in what is, after all, meant to be a professional industry. The name of the game is divide and conquer. There can be no other explanation for the current unpredictable, and some would say, contemptuous behaviour of the ATO towards tax professionals. If there is, I would like to hear it.

Some time ago, we had one of those rare visits from the ATO relationship manager, who went to great pains to congratulate our small suburban firm on being 'under the radar' in terms of timely lodgment; clean client list; substantial lack of audit/amendment failure etc. etc.

I have to ask, if the ATO game (and it does appear to be a game) is about cutting the chaff from the hay, why does it not use its own statistical data to sort professional agents from the non-professional, instead of throwing a wet blanket over the whole of the industry. Its actions are making it really hard to breathe down here."

MEMBER 52 writes:

"The ATO sent a letter direct to my client informing it that its PAYG instalment amount had changed.

The client had a nil 2011 tax return. The client has received this letter. It is a tax matter. The letter should have come to me. The client does not know what this is about. Because the ATO seem to think this is an activity statement matter and sent the attached letter to the client, sure the PAYG withholding does go on the BAS.

When just wasting 40 minutes speaking to the ATO they have advised that they have computer problems and are trying to fix them, if this is the case then why is there no message on the ATO broadcast sent out recently?

I also have wasted and spent over 30 minutes trying to explain to my client.

Who is going to pay for my time? It would be great if just the ATO even said sorry for their mistakes. All that we get is abuse for not complying with our lodgment program. The ATO are responsible for us not complying and for the stuff ups.

Just been advised by the ATO that I have to vary the assessment to NIL, when asked why their computer cannot send a revised letter, I have been advised that as the system has gone passed this point I have to waste more time intervening .

No wonder we cannot attend to our lodgments on time.

Thank you kindly TAXVINE. Keep hassling the ATO

When are they going to be held accountable?"

THE TAX INSTITUTE'S TAX COUNSEL, STEPHANIE CAREDES, COMMENTS: "The Tax Institute is aware of this issue and is considering the best way to work towards solving the matter between its members and the ATO. The Tax Institute has already raised the matter with the ATO and will keep members updated when a solution is reached."

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