• Digital delivery: changing how we communicate

    We are changing the way we communicate and interact with the community. In line with global trends and community expectations, and in keeping with the government’s digital strategy, we are moving away from paper communications to interacting online.

    Community preferences are changing, as shown by people increasingly using our self-help and online options.

    Following are the four key ways we are improving our digital delivery as well as future challenges.

    Mobile applications

    The way Australians are accessing information is becoming more and more mobile; more than 14 million Australians have smart phones, and five million Australians have a tablet device. This means that people are now using app stores to find the things that matter to them, so having an ATO presence in those stores is crucial in meeting community expectations.

    Our first step into the world of services for smart devices saw the release of the ATO app aimed at individuals for Tax Time 2013. Individuals can now check the progress of their tax returns via a mobile application for the Apple, Android and Windows 8 platforms. There have been 320,497 downloads since release, and public feedback has been positive. We have an average rating of 3 stars in the Apple app store, 4 stars in the Google Play store, and 4.5 stars in the Windows Phone app store.

    Now in our fifth release, we have focused on providing tools for small business and continue to make improvements based on feedback.

    Online services

    From 1 July 2014 taxpayers with simple tax affairs will be able to complete and lodge their tax returns using myTax, our new streamlined online tax return. People with more complex tax affairs can continue to use e-tax. During Tax Time 2014, people using myTax or e-tax will use myGov authentication for pre-fill and online lodgment.

    Since 1 July 2014 over 1.3 million people have already linked their myGov account to the ATO. We expect this figure to grow to approximately three million by the end of October 2014.

    Individuals can also use a secure online portal for their superannuation and income tax, which incorporates the earlier release of Your Super. By 30 June 2014, 583,650 clients had successfully registered for the portal.

    The individuals' online portal allows clients to:

    • keep track of all their super including current, lost and ATO-held accounts
    • consolidate superannuation accounts
    • follow the progress of their current income tax return
    • view the outcome of their tax returns for previous years
    • set up a payment arrangement for their income tax account
    • update their details, such as address, bank account and authorised contact.

    The introduction of new online services has resulted in almost half of all progress of return requests being made using the online portal and mobile app channels. Figure 1 shows the shift from using our interactive voice recognition (IVR) self-help phone service and website search tool, to the new channels.

    Figure 1: Progress of return requests by channel for 2011–12 to 2013–14

     Figure 1: Progress of return requests by channel for 2011-12 to 2013-14

    Australian residents can now apply for a tax file number (TFN) by completing an online TFN application and attending an Australia Post retail outlet with their identity documents to complete the process. The approach is now used by 57% of resident Australians applying for a TFN (not including secondary school students). New immigrants and temporary visitors who are in Australia can apply for a TFN through the online Individual Auto Registration service. Approximately 53% of all TFN applications are lodged through this service.

    Our online services have been extended further to provide an easy, secure, low-cost facility for both low and high-volume data exchanges. This means that employers, financial institutions, superannuation funds and health funds can transfer bulk data quickly, and individuals can efficiently transfer their super between funds.

    Reducing paper

    We are mindful of the need to reduce costs and our environmental footprint. As we move to more efficient and cost-effective digital interactions with our clients, we are reducing our carbon footprint. We are exploring opportunities to eliminate by July 2015 most of the 1,000 tonnes of paper we print and distribute.

    Paperless transactions have increased, as fewer taxpayers use paper returns. The number of individual paper returns lodged has significantly reduced from 894,348 in the 2012–13 year to 702,269 in the 2013–14 year, a 21.5% reduction.

    The trend towards electronic payments has seen more taxpayers choosing to receive their tax refund by electronic funds transfer (EFT). From July 2013, for returns lodged electronically where a refund is expected, we required individuals to provide their BSB and account number. By 30 June 2014, 96.5% of individual income tax refunds were being paid electronically, a 27.5% improvement over the previous financial year.

    The benefits of faster payments for taxpayers and reduced costs to the community are driving our approach to encourage the remaining taxpayers to shift to EFT refunds. In 2013–14, we extended to non-individual tax returns the requirement for returns to be lodged electronically where a refund is expected.

    Online BAS lodgment

    In our efforts to ensure our services make participation in the tax system as easy and seamless as possible, we are working with the business community to educate and encourage them away from dealing in paper to interacting with us online.

    We contacted over 2,000 businesses, including large entities, small and medium enterprises, non-profit organisations and government entities. During this approach, entities were advised of their legal obligations to lodge and pay their activity statements online where their GST annual turnover was greater than $20 million. Around 97% of entities required by law under the GST Act to lodge electronically have transitioned to electronic methods. Entities that failed to meet this non-electronic obligation have received penalties.

    Future challenges

    These strategies have provided immediate benefits to the community. As we continue to educate and support more taxpayers to shift to online interactions, we expect to be able to measure and report on specific productivity increases, reduced costs, and a smaller carbon footprint.

    We are continuing to look for opportunities to improve taxpayers’ access to our online systems, while also enhancing the security and integrity of those systems.

    The security of taxpayer data continues to be a high priority for us. As the community demand for user-friendly services increases, we will continue to explore new technologies, systems and processes to ensure our services are as easy to access as possible without compromising our high level of security. Our commitment to delivering secure services through myGovExternal Link is an example of how we can simplify access for taxpayers while maintaining or improving the security of online systems.

    Our analysis indicates that the registration linking and maintenance process in myGov is easier and more streamlined than was available with previous ATO online registrations.

    Ideally, we would like the community’s interactions with us to be as infrequent, brief and painless as possible.

    Last modified: 07 Mar 2016QC 37648