Relations between tax agents and the Australian Tax Office over major IT changes have thawed in recent months after the agency took on board complaints about a lack of transparency in its ‘digital by default’ program.
A session of additional Senate estimates yesterday heard from a number of groups representing tax agents and accountants, including the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, COSBOA, CPA Australia, the IPA and the Tax Institute.
Agents and accountants complained that the ATO had failed to adequately consult with them about the introduction of new platforms, and that new systems primarily focused on the needs of clients, rather than tax agents.
They called it a major oversight given around 70 percent of individuals and around 90 percent of businesses in Australia use tax agents.
Agents cited the introduction of the MyTax and MyGov online lodgement platforms, which among other things meant correspondence about a client that was previously sent to their agent now went directly to the individual's MyGov inbox - locking them out of the process.
The ATO eventually released a 'client correspondence list' tool, and ATO commissioner Chris Jordan in November last year admitted the project was not the agency’s “best example of co-design” and promised better future consultation.
Keeping its word
Tax agents yesterday said the ATO had kept true to its word and made consultation on system changes with the industry a priority.
They cited the example of the planned introduction of single touch payroll, which was pushed back after agent industry groups raised concerns that a significant number of Australian small businesses were yet to adopt online accounting packages such as Xero or MYOB.
“There was an altitudinal thing with the ATO, where they said ‘we’ll design it and you’ll fit in’. I believe that’s changed now, but there definitely was that attitude,” COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong said.
The ‘digital by default’ modernisation push began when former KPMG executive Jordan took over as commissioner in early 2013, the first ATO chief in history to come from the private sector.
The modernisation of tax lodgment has snowballed in the past five years, from paper forms to the downloadable eTax software, and most recently the web-based MyTax with pre-filling capabilities that the ATO tax team is using to strive towards a no-touch return for simple tax cases.