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  • Individuals: the big picture

    Find out how the ATO works with and for individuals.

    On this page:

    We support taxpayers' choice to either self-prepare or use a registered tax agent. The majority of individuals use tax agents and we provide a range of products and services to support them.

    We adopt a variety of approaches to remind individuals to lodge and to help them correctly report their tax information. We help individuals get it right by:

    • engaging with the community
    • providing relevant information and assistance
    • delivering timely communications that are relevant to them
    • providing tools and services that make it easy to comply.

    Community engagement

    We have an extensive program to assist individuals, particularly those who are new to the system, to understand their obligations.

    We provide services through shopfronts and pop-up tax time booths in community centres. These face-to-face services help with general enquiries and the transition to digital services.

    Supporting low-income earners

    We help low-income earners prepare and lodge their tax return. ATO volunteers offer this free service through our face-to-face Tax Help program, assisting people to create myGov accounts, link to the ATO and lodge tax returns.

    In 2018, we celebrated 30 years of Tax Help with over 800 trained and accredited Tax Help volunteers in over 600 centres to help individuals in metropolitan, rural and regional areas to lodge their tax return.

    We also hosted 35 pop-up shops in major shopping centres, community hubs and even a metro train station to provide face-to-face advice and on-the-spot demonstrations on getting their tax returns right.

    Supporting diverse audiences

    Community speakers present to new arrivals, refugees, youth, international students and culturally and linguistically diverse audiences (CALD) to help them understand and engage with tax and super.

    In some areas, Tax Help is available in languages other than English. We also have specialist centres to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    Supporting new Australians

    We support people who have recently moved to Australia. We work with support organisations to ensure that new Australians understand the importance of our tax and super system. We do this by developing information tailored to new Australians, such as multi-language videos, that build their confidence, knowledge and capabilities around tax and super.

    Supporting youth

    We are committed to providing all young Australians with an understanding of taxation and superannuation that allows them to confidently participate in the workforce.

    We have an active Schools program which is currently available for students in Years 7–12. We are currently working on a program for primary school students.

    Supporting regional and remote taxpayers

    We also assist taxpayers in regional and remote areas, who can access ATO services through Department of Human Services (DHS) shopfronts, agents and kiosks.

    We also visit some regional locations as part of our pop-up kiosk program.

    Supporting taxpayers without digital access

    We recognise that a small proportion of the population do not have digital access either due to lack of available internet services, low levels of digital literacy, language, geographical or cultural barriers.

    We provide options and support services including support packs, paper and printed forms, and telephone assistance.

    Recently, the Commonwealth Government has allocated $1 million to set up 10 tax clinics under a trial program to support unrepresented individual and small business taxpayers by providing general taxation advice to help with their tax obligations.

    Information and assistance

    To make it easier for individuals to understand how the law applies to them, we provide easy-to-understand guidance material and tools on our website.

    Around 80% of individuals claim deductions in their tax return. A range of information and tools, including occupation-specific guides, are available on our website to help with deductions.

    We also provide tools and calculators to assist taxpayers with more complex calculations. Many of the tools are integrated with our online services.

    In 2018, we officially launched ATO CommunityExternal Link to enable taxpayers to lead the conversation and share their experiences. ATO Community has reduced over 45,000 calls to ATO and allowed us to address real concerns in real time.

    Tax Time Toolkit

    Our Tax Time Toolkit features help and advice products using simplified, plain language. The products cover various areas of lodging an individual tax return, including claiming work-related expenses, self-education expenses, rental deductions, and income. They have been downloaded over 200,000 times on ato.gov.au and over 150,000 times from our online ordering system (pods).

    Communication

    We issue more than three million emails and letters each year to taxpayers who prepare their own tax returns. The emails are personalised and tailored to the individual’s circumstances and provide relevant information on topics such as:

    • lodging their first tax return
    • lodging online with myTax
    • declaring multiple sources of income
    • overseas HELP and debt payment reminders
    • claiming work-related expenses, rental property and other deductions.

    We have an active media strategy which includes television, radio, print and online channels. Through these we provide valuable information and tips about how to get your tax right, what to avoid, and our focus areas.

    ATO Online services via myGov

    You can access a range of online services via myGov. These services include:

    • lodge returns and report income using myTax
    • check the progress of your return
    • amend returns from 2015 onwards
    • find and manage super
    • lodge, view and revise activity statements
    • view account balances and transactions
    • make a payment or create a payment plan
    • view and update contact details
    • view a history of communications from us.

    MyTax

    In 2018, 3.8 million Australians lodged their tax return online using myTax.

    MyTax has a number of integrated calculators to help you complete your return with confidence.

    We provide a web chat service so those who need additional assistance to lodge their return can chat with one of our client officers. During the 2018 tax time period, we chatted to over 349,000 taxpayers.

    We use pre-lodgment prompts, such as myTax messages and letters, to encourage people to accurately report information in their returns and lodge on time.

    ATO app and myDeductions

    The ATO app has been downloaded more than 1.8 million times.

    Our app includes a range of easy-to-use tools:

    • myDeductions – helps you keep track of expenses which can be uploaded into your tax return when lodging with myTax or an agent
    • tax withheld calculator – allows employers and employees to check how much tax is required.

    You can use the app to connect to ATO Online via myGov and complete your tax return. You can also:

    • check your super
    • keep track of your refund
    • set reminders.

    See also:

    Tax Time 2018

    Between 1 July 2018 and 31 October 2018, over 10.3 million individual income tax returns were lodged. In addition, we generally issue most returns within seven days of lodgment to ensure taxpayers promptly receive their refunds.

    Using data

    We use data to tailor services to meet the differing needs of taxpayers. To save time and help individuals get it right, we:

    • pre-fill returns with information from third parties
    • auto-correct returns where we are confident the taxpayer has left out income
    • use real-time analytics to detect unusual claims and notify the taxpayer so that they can follow up before they lodge
    • match taxpayers with their lost super.

    Pre-filling myTax returns

    MyTax returns are partially pre-filled with details from payment summaries and other sources such as health funds, banks, employers, government agencies and more. This helps us to make returns more accurate, quicker and easier to complete.

    Around 94% of the income reported can be pre-filled in returns, helping to make sure their returns are correct. In 2018, we have pre-filled over 80 million pieces of data with the use of our data and analytics technology.

    For the remaining 6%, we have some data to:

    • verify claims
    • partially pre-fill return items
    • ‘nudge’ users to correctly report income.

    Cross-checking and compliance

    We use over 650 million transactions from third-parties to cross-check information in returns. This ensures people are:

    • declaring the correct income
    • claiming the correct offsets and exemptions.

    This tax time, we used third-party data to remind people to correctly calculate and report capital gains and losses on the sale of shares and units.

    We use analytical models to identify those who may be making errors or displaying high-risk behaviour. If we see this, we contact the individual, or their agent, to help them get things right.

    Finding lost super

    We use data to reunite people with their lost or unclaimed super.

    From 1 July 2017 – 30 June 2018, over 328,000 individuals consolidated their lost and unclaimed super accounts for a total value of $3.18 billion using our online services

    Over 2.9 million searches for lost super were made in 2016–17. As a result of the searches, almost 548,000 super accounts were consolidated, worth $2.8 billion.

    In recent financial years (July 2014 – December 2018), 2.46 million super accounts worth $13 billion have been consolidated and transferred as a result of reforms implemented by us and the super industry.

    In April 2018 we contacted 100,000 people to help find the owners of this unclaimed super. As of 30 June 2018, we held 5.36 million unclaimed super money accounts valued at $3.93 billion. We also held over 338,000 super holding accounts (SHA) worth $118.5 million.

    In October 2018 almost 47,000 super accounts worth $358 million were consolidated – an increase of $43 million compared with October 2017 (when $315 million worth of accounts were consolidated).

    Identity protection and scam awareness

    We have dedicated teams to help protect you from scammers. Scammers have two main objectives; to get someone to either:

    • pay money
    • divulge personal or financial information.

    We received over 81,000 reports of tax-related scams in 2017:

    • almost 10,000 people divulged personal information
    • 375 people paid scammers a reported total $2.3 million.

    We review every report made by members of the community and we work with other authorities to take action to disrupt the scammers.

    Our best defence against the scammers is to educate the public. We regularly publicise scam warnings and media releases to help ensure the community is aware of the latest tactics being used by scammers.

    Anyone who thinks they may have been scammed should call our dedicated scams line on 1800 008 540.

    See also:

    • Scam Alerts to check for, or subscribe to, our latest scam information

    Helping individuals avoid debt

    There’s a range of ways to help avoid tax debt, including:

    How we manage debt

    We seek to engage with taxpayers early to help them manage debt. Reviews by the Inspector-General of Taxation and the Australian National Audit Office found that our processes are consistent with best practices and we continue to evolve and refine our approach in line with the recommendations of these reviews.

    Early action

    The best way to deal with a debt, even if it can't be paid straight away, is to contact us early so we can help.

    In 2017–18, 65.7% of all individual’s tax liabilities (by value) were paid on time and we negotiated 226,000 payment plans, which resulted in $1.4 billion of tax revenue.

    See also:

    Firmer action

    For the minority that don't deal with their tax debt, we take action to prevent them gaining an unfair financial advantage.

    This may include issuing a garnishee notice to:

    • an employer or contractor
    • banks and financial institutions where they have accounts
    • people who owe an individual money from the sale of real estate, such as purchasers, real estate agents and solicitors.

    During 2017–18 we used garnishee powers in about 1.1% of all individual and business debt cases.

    See also:

    Stronger action

    We may use legal recovery in relation to a debt, exercising the same rights available to any other creditor. If the taxpayer chooses to engage with us regarding a debt, we will work with the taxpayer to cooperatively resolve issues.

    We understand the stress associated with garnishee notices and legal actions taken to recover outstanding debts. In 2018, an independent and external entity reviewed all 2018 insolvency cases; they found that our debt collection practices are appropriate and do not directly lead taxpayers to bankruptcy. Our current practices do not seek to bankrupt taxpayers if it is clear that the debt can be paid in a reasonable time.

    An independent, external review of our 2018 insolvency cases found our collection practices do not prematurely lead to viable taxpayers being bankrupted.

    Of all bankruptcies in Australia in 2017–18, we initiated 2.8%, down from 3.9% in 2016–17.

    Support in times of serious hardship

    When individuals experience serious hardship, we may be able to release them from paying some or all of their tax bill when certain criteria are met.

    In 2017–18 we granted full or partial release in 2,174 cases.

    Managing disputes

    Tax and super disputes continue to be a relatively small, but important part of administering the tax and super systems.

    In 2017–18:

    • more than 36.5 million returns were lodged
    • 361,107 (1%) adjustments from audits were made
    • 24,350 (0.07%) objections were received – 54% of these objections related to individuals
    • 478 (0.001%) cases were lodged to courts/tribunals
    • 102 (0.0004%) cases proceeded to decision by court/tribunal.

    Our client focused approach to resolve disputes as early and fairly as possible has seen a 60% reduction in Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) applications against our decisions over the last five years.

    We aim to resolve disputes as early as possible and only litigate cases where the outcome would clarify the law or where it is important to send a strong message on non-compliant tax behaviour.

    Since 2016–17 there has been a 30% reduction in the average time it takes to resolve a dispute.

    We have a number of alternative dispute resolution services to help resolve disputes, including free in-house facilitation and Dispute Assist.

    In-House facilitation

    In 2017–18, we received almost 250 referrals for in-house facilitation from individuals and small business taxpayers, almost twice as many as the previous year. Nearly all of our free in-house facilitations in 2017–18 were able to partially or fully resolve the dispute.

    Dispute assist

    Dispute Assist is a new, free service supporting unrepresented individuals and small businesses, where significant personal circumstances have contributed to their dispute with us. The service provides an independent, experienced disputes guide, who provides support and assistance through the process.

    See also:

    What attracts our attention

    Improvements in technology and data, and our ability to scan every return, means we can more easily identify incorrect claims.

    We have increased our investment in help and education to assist taxpayers to understand their tax obligations. We are able to review every return and expect to contact more than one million taxpayers, directly or through their agents, this year.

    The behaviours, characteristics and errors for individuals that attract our attention include:

    • unusually high claims, or claims that are out of the ordinary, for work-related expenses like cars, clothing and laundry or claiming a 'standard deduction' without a record to prove the claim
    • undeclared income, usually cash wages, income from second jobs, or capital gains on cryptocurrency
    • undeclared foreign income from pensions, employment, investments, business income or capital gains on overseas assets
    • rental expenses, especially claims inconsistent with rental income and information we hold about the property
    • undeclared capital gains, from the Australian share market and property sales
    • non-lodgment of returns, focusing on those failing to lodge, including those due a refund.

    Incorrect claiming of deductions

    We’re working to ensure everyone pays their fair share and reduce the over-claiming of deductions. Most commonly, we see errors relating to:

    • work-related expenses
    • rental properties
    • omission of income, particularly where wages are paid in cash.

    The over-claiming of these deductions were the main drivers for the 2014–15 estimated $8.7 billion income tax gap for individuals not in business.

    During 2013–14 and 2014–15 we reviewed 858 individuals’ cases in our random enquiry programs, and 615 cases required adjustments. Almost 70% required adjustments related to incorrect claiming of deductions. The majority were the incorrect claiming of work-related expenses, including:

    • clothing
    • car
    • travel
    • self-education
    • other expenses.

    Find out about:

    Penalty Relief Initiative

    We are improving our processes to make it easier for small businesses to get things right and to ensure a fair and consistent approach to the way we administer penalties. Our Penalty Relief Initiative provides penalty relief to eligible individuals and entities with a turnover of less than $10 million that have made an error. In its first six months from 1 July 2018, penalty relief reduced false or misleading statement penalties for failure to take reasonable care on individuals by 82.9%.

    Find out about:

      Last modified: 29 Mar 2019QC 57211