Skip to main content

Your shopping cart is empty


12 Dec 14 On the ATO's correspondence writing skills - the ATO responds

In 2014 TAXVINE No 45 (5 December 2014), Member 201 commented on an earlier response from the ATO in which it stated that it usually "co-designs" its correspondence but, in relation to recent letters to taxpayers regarding claims for deductions in relation to property investments, had not done so. Member 201 then asked the question:  "So, are we to surmise from that confession that the ATO simply does not know how to write a decent letter?  Amazing."



"As part of the ATO’s reinvention agenda, work is underway to modernise the ATO’s correspondence as well as support the Government’s digital policies.

Our aim is to ensure communications are clear, written with appropriate tone and people understand the action they need to take. We are taking a consultative approach, bringing together members of the public, tax agents and specialist groups to assist with improving our correspondence.

The ATO recently collaborated with a number of stakeholders, including the ATPAG, industry and consultative groups, and experienced external consultants, to change the way we correspond with taxpayers who have an outstanding tax debt. A trial of the first letter is now underway.

In response to community feedback we are redesigning key pieces of paper correspondence making them available through digital channels of Email, SMS or ATO Online Services. 

We are committed to the continual improvement of correspondence and you can expect to see further improvements in 2015.

We also ask members seeking current information on the ATO’s “letter improvement project” to refer to the passage below rather than the link to the ATO website provided in TaxVine last week.

Co-Design involves working with members of the community (and also ATO staff) during the design process to ensure that all aspects of the user experience are taken into account to produce a quality product; rather than creating something based on assumptions or out-dated knowledge, and expecting it to meet users’ needs.   Products that are Co-Designed range from paper-based communications, to web content, online tools, mobile apps and voice recognition systems.


How do we Co-design?

Co-Design in the ATO draws on best practice User-Centred Design (UCD) techniques which follow an international standard (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process). The method aims to include users in the design process, focusing on how they can, want, or need to use a product or process, rather than forcing them to change their behavior to accommodate a design. Some typical Co-Design activities are: focus groups; interviews; and usability testing sessions (run in the ATO Co-Design Centre in Brisbane).  These activities usually generate qualitative data, concentrating on trend based analysis, involving small numbers of users in the context of an end to end process or work activity.


Who do we select for Co-design?

At the start of a design process, primary user demographics are defined to ensure people with the right characteristics are targeted to be involved in Co-Design activities. Members of the community are recruited through different channels ranging from ATO forums and advisory groups through to recruitment agencies, where we provide the agency with demographic characteristics and then they recruit a random sample of people who match those characteristics. Tax professionals are often approached to participate in Co-Design activities by tax practitioner consultations team within our Tax Practitioner and Lodgment Strategy business line (TPALS)."