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  • Tax professionals and other intermediaries

    How we are making it easier

    Tax professionals are supporting participation

    Tax practitioners and other intermediaries play a critical role and support the ATO in our administration of the tax and superannuation systems. Most individuals and organisations, particularly those with more complex tax affairs, rely on the tax profession to support them in meeting their interaction with the systems.

    Tax professionals are important conduits and influencers of taxpayer behaviour and we recognise that a healthy tax profession supports a healthy tax system. Earlier this year, the Commissioner released a statement publicly acknowledging the important relationship between the ATO and the profession – the ‘Working Together’ statement.

    Around 73% of all individuals’ (not in business) tax returns and 97% of business tax returns are lodged through more than 24,700 registered and active tax agents. Business activity statement (BAS) services are provided by over 33,800 registered and active tax and BAS agents, while 20,700 registered tax advisers provide financial advice with a taxation element. Lawyers also provide advice on tax laws to their clients, while digital service providers embed tax and superannuation reporting into their commercial products for business and tax professionals – supporting government initiatives such as Single Touch Payroll.

    Collaborating with the profession to shape the future

    As the ATO and the tax profession modernise, the way we work together is changing. Tax practitioners are making greater use of technology, and helping their clients on business systems that integrate with their practices, the ATO and other service providers.

    We have formed a Future of the Tax Profession Future State working group, with representatives from the peak professional bodies and the Tax Practitioners Board. The group is working on strategies to better understand the future role of the tax profession in the system, and opportunities for us to collaborate more effectively for better outcomes. This includes looking at what education is required for those entering the tax profession.

    In addition, throughout 2016–17, we consulted and co-designed with nearly 780 tax practitioners on almost 70 different matters, including Single Touch Payroll, superannuation new measures, improving online services, the client communications list, and single online business registration.

    Supporting practitioners through increased engagement

    The ATO and the tax profession depend on each other for success, working together to ensure the proper operation of the tax and superannuation systems. We will continue to engage with tax practitioners to make it easier for them to stay up to date with changes, with access to information that is relevant and easy to understand.

    In 2016–17, we increased our face-to-face engagement with tax practitioners and their professional associations, conducting 45 open forums attended by over 4,130 tax practitioners. We supported 91 practitioner speaking engagements, including 39 discussion groups, 43 conferences and, four professional development seminars. We also ran live-stream webinars every two months, and these were attended by almost 6,100 practitioners.

    In addition, we distributed 98 editions of the Tax professionals newsletter, published over 240 articles to the Tax Professionals Newsroom, and assisted practitioners through our ‘Complex issue resolution’ service with around 1,130 queries that could not be resolved through traditional channels.

    Continuing to improve online services

    We continue to progress toward our goal of tax and BAS agents having the choice to interact digitally with the ATO completely through their practice management software. The transition of all electronic tax return lodgments to the practitioner lodgment service (PLS) is a key foundation to achieving this goal

    Use of the PLS grew, from 4% of tax agent return lodgments in July 2016 to 31% in June 2017. Through 2016–17, with the progressive withdrawal of the electronic lodgment service (ELS), PLS became the only electronic channel available for lodgment of fringe benefit tax returns. We will move other services across to PLS through 2017–18. All lodgment services will be delivered through the new channel by Tax Time 2018.

    We will continue to deliver core online services to agents via the portals and ATO Online. We continue to collaborate with our digital service provider partners to enable tax professionals to interact with the tax and superannuation systems through their practice management software. Into the future, ATO online services for tax practitioners will be delivered over two main platforms:

    • PLS – which provides a single lodgment service for returns and statements, accessed via commercial software products that are compatible with Standard Business Reporting
    • the tax and BAS agent portals – which enable agents to access account information, services and correspondence for their clients, with the portals increasingly becoming integrated with commercial practice management software products.

    We recognise that system failures in December 2016 and February 2017 and Cyclone Debbie in April 2017 created challenges for tax practitioners. In response, the ATO maintained communications and provided additional time for practitioners to meet obligations where affected through these periods and to deal with the ongoing impacts as they worked to catch up. We will continue to engage with tax professionals to ensure our communications and business continuity approach are effective.

    Ensuring integrity

    In providing advice and services, tax practitioners influence their clients’ attitudes to participating in the tax and superannuation systems. Although the majority of tax practitioners focus on complying fully with legislative obligations, some do not always get it right.

    To protect the community and the integrity of the tax system, we are proactive in identifying practitioners that demonstrate non-compliant behaviours, and work closely with the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) in taking appropriate actions. In 2016–17, there were 127 agent-of-concern case reviews and 89 referrals to the TPB. We had 22 active agent-of-concern cases as at 30 June 2017. Notable outcomes were the suspension of one practitioner, multiple sanctions imposed on three practitioners, and eight given a written caution, written order or both.

    We will continue to work in collaboration with the TPB to improve referral processes and sharing of data and information.

    Supporting digital service providers

    The ATO continues to build productive partnerships, with almost 360 registered digital service providers (DSPs), to drive greater efficiencies in the administration of the tax and superannuation systems. Our approach is governed by a commitment to high levels of transparency and a genuine partnership.

    We engage DSP partners, providing tax and technical updates and information about upcoming events, such as our open forums with tax professionals, and planned and unplanned system maintenance periods. We have also established regular engagement between our senior executives and the industry associations, through forums such as our Practitioner Lodgment Service Round Table. Over the past 12 months, our DSP engagement framework has seen a stronger integration between business design working groups and IT implementation, resulting in a more agile and responsive delivery environment.

    The ATO’s partnership with digital service providers includes:

    • a secondment program providing ATO staff with experience in the DSP sector
    • expansion of available software services delivered through our Standard Business Reporting e-commerce channel for consumption by DSPs, specifically
      • practitioner lodgment service
      • Single Touch Payroll
      • services designed to assist the superannuation industry
      • Australian Business Registry, business-to-government interactions
    • account management support
    • technical working groups to progress pressing technical issues.
      Last modified: 30 Oct 2017QC 53687