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Pensioners, be warned

MEMBER 321 writes:

"I've now heard it all!!!

After lodging a personal tax return in 2008 for a Mum who has been raising 4 children and had been supported by her spouse for around 10 years, she received a penalty for $550 for the non lodgment of her 2007 return, despite having received no request to lodge - what about the previous nine or so years? I then lodged an objection as returns for this client had not been necessary for 10 or so years.

An ATO officer rang to advise that I did not understand the system, such a revelation after 24 years!!!! I then suggested that they issue penalties for the other 10 or so years that the client, despite having no income and therefore no need to lodge, had not lodged, and was informed that taxpayers are required to lodge returns regardless. Regardless of what?? When I commented that the ATO cannot cope with the required lodgments without requiring every Australian to lodge a return regardless of their status, I was informed that she did not work in lodgments, she worked in collections!!! Look out pensioners, they are coming after you!!

The net result was a revision of the penalty - so at least we won that battle, but this exercise shows how little ATO staff understand of the system they are prosecuting.

I subsequently reviewed the last list of outstanding returns on my client base issued in a letter by the ATO and noted that a large number of returns outstanding had been covered by client updates advising that a return was not necessary by ELS which obviously had not been processed by the ATO. As a sole operator with around 1,000 individual clients lodging around 1,400 returns, this is of great concern, if they continue with the issue of penalty notices for non lodgments when returns were not necessary, especially if they have been advised (what's the point of advising??) If the ATO has information regarding income for non lodgers, and they continue to brag at their seminars they know almost everything, then they should take action on the information they have. I suggest that they are relying on tax agents to correct their records and bring their system up to date at no expense. This is not good enough.

Also, am I alone or are all other tax agents being harassed by debt collectors, who claim they are from the ATO, chasing outstanding tax debts. When I receive a telephone call from someone purporting to be from the ATO, my immediate response is to ask if the call is regarding a tax debt, and if so my response is to advise them to contact the client direct and I don't have their cheque book or telephone number. When I receive a message on my answering machine requiring me to reply within 36 hours with all sorts of identifying info, I delete the message. My answering machine message advises when I will be contactable, but obviously, they do not listen.

It seems to me that this situation is getting out of hand on all fronts."