On Thursday 19 February, General Manager of Education Ruth Ferraro attended a meeting of the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) Consultative Forum. The TPB issued these key messages following the meeting:
Update from the TPB
- The TPB met its $2 million annual net (calendar year) deregulation target required by December 2014 and continues to look at opportunities to streamline processes and interactions for the 2015 calendar year.
- The Board has recently reviewed and updated the Strategic plan (until 30 June 2016) and will continue to focus on increasing efficiencies wherever possible, being cognisant of budgetary constraints. Key strategic priorities over the next 12 months include:
- improvements to TPB online forms;
- the transitional and standard registration phase for tax (financial) advisers commencing on 1 January 2016 (including website content, online forms, policy guidance, and symbol trade marking);
- an annual declaration process for TPB registered tax practitioners;
- an updated approach to Outreach based on webinars, involvement in ATO Open forums and significant updates to the TPB website;
- improvement of the TPB website; and
- an ongoing focus on continuous improvement including:
- continuing work to meet the Government’s deregulation agenda,
- continuing work on providing policy guidance to tax practitioners, and
- improvement in productivity and client service through the achievement of shorter service standards for Registrations and Regulatory Assurance work.
A forward work program in relation to professional practice guidance is currently being reviewed, with a priority being relevant Code guidance for tax (financial) advisers. In addition, work will also progress in relation to providing relevant guidance about use of software.
- The TPB continues to meet service standards, as outlined in the TPB’s Strategic plan, with the overall weighted average for processing registration applications currently tracking at 23 days (for the current financial year as at the end of January 2015).
- The following was also noted during the overview provided:
- The number of registered tax and BAS agents continues to remain stable at around 55,000 in total.
- 76% of the total individual registered tax and BAS agent population are known to be a member of a TPB recognised professional association, an increase of 1% since the September 2014 quarter.
- The Board has terminated the Association of Taxation and Management Accountants (ATMA) accreditation as a recognised tax agent association under the Tax Agent Services Regulations 2009.
- As expected, a large number of tax (financial) adviser notifications were received in December 2014. As at end of January 2015, there were 14,770 registered - comprising 628 Australian financial service licensees (AFSLs) and 14,142 authorised representatives (ARs).
- As expected, a large number of BAS renewal applications are now being lodged, which is expected to continue for the next couple of months.
- Work is also progressing to ensure operational readiness in the lead up to the transitional and standard registration phases for tax (financial) advisers, which commences from 1 January 2016.
- The TPB will continue to monitor and look for any process improvements as appropriate, including review of forms as a current priority.
- 714 cases were finalised as at end of January 2015 (financial year to date), with most finalised within service standards. There have been 88 sanctions applied in the financial year to date (including 30 terminations and 2 suspensions, 33 orders, and 23 written cautions), representing a very small proportion of registered agents. There has also been a continuing trend with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) affirming the Board’s decisions.
- The total number of complaints received from external sources was 779 as at end of January 2015 (financial year to date), marginally less in comparison to the same period last year. Of these 779 complaints, the number of complaints received from the public was 668, which is similar to the amount received (651) as at the corresponding time in the previous year.
- The Forum noted the listing of recently issued TPB information products and observed that a range of material continues to be developed in relation to tax (financial) advisers.
- The TPB has updated its Outreach program to incorporate a greater emphasis on Webinars as well as involvement in Australian Taxation Office open forums as appropriate. An initial pilot Webinar program is currently scheduled for:
- Northern Territory and parts of north-west Western Australia
- North Queensland.
It was also reiterated that the TPB is keen to participate in relevant association conferences and speaking events.
- It was highlighted that the registered agent symbol has been very successful, with almost 8,000 symbol download requests so far and the TPB receiving positive feedback on this initiative. Consideration is also being given to the possibility of having a version of the symbol that can be displayed appropriately in LinkedIn, with the TPB taking a practical approach and seeking an appropriate amendment to relevant Guidelines in relation to display.
TPB website usability
- It was also highlighted that TPB is seeking to refresh its website to improve general usability (improve overall structure, presentation and location of content, including updating content to incorporate key summary points for quick reference).
- Relevant information was outlined from initial usability testing recently conducted, including the following key findings: o the website is used primarily for authenticated services such as registrations, renewals and changes of details (not information);
- many agents rely on professional associations to help manage their obligations;
- participants were overwhelmed by the amount of information provided.
- Further user testing will be conducted in the coming months, including determining how to best present content for the different users of the website.
- It was also observed that the TPB welcomes ideas from recognised associations on helping to promote the TPB (including specific direct hyperlinks to the TPB as appropriate), while also recognising that the TPB logo should not be used publicly for display or reproduction by anyone other than the TPB, as this may imply endorsement by the TPB or may provide an unfair commercial advantage.
Tax (financial) advisers
- The TPB is progressing preparation in relation to operational readiness for the transitional and standard registration phases commencing from 1 January 2016.
- It was noted that the closing date for submissions on the following exposure drafts was 26 February 2015: o Sufficient experience to provide services to a competent standard (for the purpose of registration as a tax (financial) adviser under the transitional registration option)
- Relevant experience (for the purpose of registration as a tax (financial) adviser under the standard registration option).
- The forum provided comments and suggested minor changes for the purpose of providing clarity and guidance to assist the TPB in developing and publishing information.
- Following relevant consideration of all submissions that are received, including feedback received at the February 2015 financial adviser forum, the TPB intends to publish final information sheets as soon as possible.
Annual declaration for practitioners
- The forum noted a brief discussion paper outlining proposal points in relation to an annual declaration for registered tax practitioners. It was noted that the declaration will cover notification of a number of items, including:
- professional indemnity insurance (replacing the current notification process);
- continuing professional education;
- fitness and propriety; and
- personal tax obligations.
- It was noted that a streamlined process will be employed and the TPB is planning to implement the declaration for registered tax and BAS agents from July 2015, with this activity being undertaken in conjunction with a review of all TPB online forms in general.
- The forum provided comments and suggestions for the purpose of assisting the TPB to progress this activity as appropriate, including giving consideration to employing a standardised date.
Annual declaration for TPB recognised professional associations
- Following on from the previous TPB consultative form, the forum noted a discussion paper outlining a proposed approach (including key principles) and an initial iteration of the proposed fields to be employed in relation to an annual declaration for TPB recognised associations.
- It was noted that the form will cover notification of a number of items, for the purpose of declaring that ongoing requirements for recognition (as set out in the Tax Agent Services Regulations 2009) continue to be met.
- The forum provided comments and suggestions for the purpose of assisting the TPB to progress this activity as appropriate. It was also noted that the Board will continue to have regard to particular circumstances as appropriate where relevant discretion was exercised (including in relation to voting numbers) in granting recognition.
Payroll service providers
- The TPB is continuing consultation with relevant stakeholders, including considering possible registration eligibility pathways, with a second Exposure draft expected to be released for public consultation in due course.
Operating in the ‘Cloud’ environment
- It was noted the TPB intends to provide brief guidance to tax practitioners in due course in relation to how interaction with software influences meeting the Code of Professional Conduct obligations in the Tax Agent Services Act 2009, rather than just considering interaction with the ‘Cloud’. In this regard, it was noted that the TPB is currently working on a high-level paper with questions for the purpose of seeking initial feedback from the consultative forum. It was also confirmed that the TPB would welcome receiving any further information in the meantime.
Suspension of members by an association
- The forum noted a risk in relation to a member being suspended or terminated by an association (or the member anticipating such an outcome) and then seeking to join another association. It was reiterated that the TPB is willing to receive ideas in relation to sharing relevant information, while also recognising that there are privacy constraints.
Members who seek further information in relation to the above should contact us at Tax Policy.