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  • Advice and guidance

    The ATO offers a range of products to help our clients understand how the law applies to them. This includes public and private advice and guidance. In improving this advice and guidance, we are focused on providing clearly expressed rulings, practical guidance and general assistance to support and assist taxpayers with their tax affairs.

    How we are making it easier

    Providing law clarity and advice

    We are making a number of changes to how we produce, communicate and deliver our public advice and guidance. These changes will make it easier for our clients to find the information they need, when they need it. Changes include:

    • communicating and engaging with our clients about the priority issues for which we will provide public advice and guidance
    • consulting earlier as we form an ATO view on technical taxation issues, prior to developing our public advice and guidance
    • drafting our products in plain English with direct and succinct language – in shorter documents that get straight to the point
    • adopting a new 'layered' approach to presenting advice and guidance on our website
    • reviewing and updating older products.

    We are consulting with stakeholders to identify their highest priority issues, and to find new ways of engaging with clients and intermediaries, including better digital options.

    During 2016–17, we published 22 law companion guidelines, which provided specific and early guidance on new law, including Superannuation Reform and GST cross-border issues. Of these, 10 were draft and 12 final. We also produced 20 practical compliance guidelines, which provide practical direction to our clients in managing their tax affairs. This comprised 5 draft and 15 final guidelines. Key topics on which these guidelines were published include transfer pricing issues, cross-border related-party financing arrangements and Superannuation Reform.

    Project Refresh is our initiative to modernise our stock of public rulings, through updating, rewriting, consolidating and withdrawing rulings that are no longer relevant. To enhance the level of protection offered to taxpayers, we are re-issuing older income tax and capital gains tax rulings and where possible, consolidating related ATO interpretative decisions into the refreshed rulings.

    During 2016–17, around 191 rulings were reviewed (in addition to the 921 reviewed in 2015–16), 327 withdrawn, 9 updated and 5 rewritten.

    In the last two years, we have made significant improvements to the content on ato.gov.au. We have removed duplication and complexity across our website. As part of this process, over 5.3 million words have been removed making it easier for people to find what they need. This has made it significantly easier for our users to navigate the site and find the information they need. In future, pages will also include version history so users can easily see the types of changes made to a page over time.

    TABLE 2.1 Public advice and guidance products, 2014–15 to 2016–17

    Segment

    2014–15

    2015–16

    2016–17

    Total public rulings (including law companion guidelines)(a)

    64

    69

    73

    Practical compliance guidelines

    0

    9

    20

    Taxpayer Alerts

    3

    9

    11

    Law Administration Practice Statements

    5

    5

    2

    Decision impact statements

    31

    22

    11

    Note:
    (a) In 2014–15, total public rulings did not include law companion guidelines.
     

    Engaging early for better outcomes

    Our review of private advice has resulted in a series of small changes delivering big benefits to our clients. Our new approach is to engage early and provide timely advice. We want to make it easy for clients to get things right and harder to get things wrong.

    We have extended the early engagement for advice service that is already on offer to big businesses, to all businesses and individuals. We have also introduced a Streamlined private ruling application. This application helps our clients propose their own rulings, and the standard format helps our technical experts get straight to interpreting the detail of the matter.

    A consistent theme arising from our clients is that they want timely advice delivered in a format they can understand. In response, we have reviewed our short form private ruling process to simplify the way a notice of private ruling is written.

    We are committed to improving our private advice processes and provide certainty through tailored, timely advice. We will continue to look at our processes and improving where we can, developing tools and services to help taxpayers comply.

      Last modified: 30 Oct 2017QC 53694