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  • Legal Practitioner Annual Round Table key messages 24 October 2016

    Business Portal for legal practitioners

    Legal practitioners submit approximately 80,000 requests per year for copies of documents via post and fax. New functionality in the Business Portal enables practitioners to get a response within 14 days.

    ATO outlined how to request copies of clients’ tax documents online. To use the Business Portal, practitioners must register for an AUSkey

    Access to the Tax Agent Portal for legal practitioners (and insolvency practitioners) is a longer term goal and will likely happen later in 2017.

    Deceased estates and legal practitioners

    Legal practitioners identified issues dealing with the ATO on a range of matters regarding deceased estates (in their capacity as legal personal representatives). ATO advised that a single contact point could not yet be offered to the profession, but would be undertaking work to better understand the issues confronting practitioners in this area – this work would be done through the ATO’s ‘fix it’ squad approach.

    ato.gov.au

    General

    The ATO website receives more than 65 million visits and there are a diverse range of users. There has been a refresh of the site with:

    • improvements in searching
    • the introduction of mega-menus
    • improved content - primary content meets 80% of the needs of users 80% of the time. Secondary content is more technical and complex.

    We test the site through ATO BetaExternal Link and practitioners are encouraged to become more involved in testing and to provide feedback.

    Public advice and guidance

    The Public Advice and Guidance area discussed the ‘layered website approach’ project enabling users to connect with the level of information they are seeking. The layered approach involved testing four concepts:

    • version control
    • quick and easy definitions
    • fast track to detailed content / accordion
    • content tagging.

    A webinar on the layered advice project is being scheduled for late November 2016 for the broader legal community.

    The first release will be the version control concept, expected to be available in 12 months.

    ATO Legal Database

    Concerns were expressed that the ATO Legal Database continues to be difficult to navigate, particularly around some specific topics. The ATO is currently working on providing the capability to allow searches on practice statements.

    Test case litigation program

    ATO provided an overview of the test case litigation program which aims to fund cases that have broader implications where precedential decisions are anticipated.

    The test case litigation panel considers applications for funding. The current panel members are:

    • Chair: Debbie Hastings – Deputy Commissioner, Review and Dispute Resolution, ATO
    • Deputy Chair: Grahame Tanna – Assistant Commissioner, Review and Dispute Resolution, ATO
    • Members
      • Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC – former Judge of the Federal Court of the Australia
      • Peter Poulos – Partner, Tax Controversy, Minter Ellison
      • Graeme Wade – President of CPA Australia and Consultant, Hamilton Morello Accountants
       

    The program has been reviewed and changes were made to the criterion and expectations and an online application form was introduced.

    Outcomes of the review are:

    • expectations are managed better
    • costs are being reimbursed monthly
    • feedback is sought from participants at the conclusion of the matter and comments are invited on how the program can be improved.

    The emphasis will be on broadening the awareness of the program amongst professionals in 2017.

    The ATO will consider publicising issues that we are seeking to test.

    Cases that have been part of the test case litigation program are updated on the Test Case Litigation Register five to six times per year. Short videos about the program are available on ATOTVExternal Link and YouTubeExternal Link.

    Independent Assurance of Settlements (IAS)

    With continued scrutiny on ATO decision making and outcomes of settlements, the ATO needs to balance providing community confidence with the need to maintain confidentiality.

    The IAS aims to provide community confidence that ATO settlements are fair, reasonable and conducted in accordance with legal principles. From 1 July 2016, retired Federal Court judges are reviewing recently-decided settlements, primarily those involving multinational corporations, on a selective basis.

    Settlements are seen as final and this will not re-open settlements. If there are probity issues, recommendations can be made, advice given on aspects of the decision making and areas for improvement or concerns identified.

    Taxpayers involved in settlements will be advised that their settlement could be subject to review.

    Mechanisms for implementing settlements

    Concerns were raised about the significant amount of time for a deed of settlement to be finalised. Often, a Heads of Agreement is signed but the ATO needs issues clarified before the actual deed can be signed.

    There were also concerns expressed that in-house facilitation processes often do not result in a concluded agreement i.e. ideally, practitioners would like a settlement deed to be ready to be signed at the end of a facilitation.

    The ATO makes around 1300 settlements per annum. Some settlements can take more time, however; we have seen improvement with settlements now being undertaken earlier in the resolution process.

    General business

    How the ATO can better engage with legal professionals on a range of issues was discussed. For example, as part of a Trust Working Group there were issues pertaining to trust law. The ATO could benefit from the expertise that legal professionals could bring into consultation in such areas.

    Action items

    Reference

    1.1

    Action
    item

    Business Portal for legal practitioners
    The ATO to provide some information for inclusion in the relevant Law Society’s’ and Bar Association’s newsletters so that practitioners are aware of this service.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Review and Dispute Resolution

     

    Reference

    2.1

    Action item

    Deceased estates and legal practitioners

    The ATO will work with the Bar and Law Associations to identify appropriate practitioners who practise in succession and/or taxation law to participate in consultation via a ‘Fix-it’ Squad.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Review and Dispute Resolution

     

    Reference

    4.1

    Action item

    Provide information on a training package to assist practitioners to use the legal database.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Tax Counsel Network

     

    Reference

    4.2

    Action item

    ATO.gov.au

    Provide ongoing to members updates on the Layered Approach project.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Tax Counsel Network

     

    Reference

    4.3

    Action item

    ATO.gov.au

    Provide feedback on how they would like to receive and access technical information – in particular if they become aware of other websites from other organisations that meet their needs then they should provide details to the ATO. This can be done through an email to Legal Practitioner mailbox.

    Responsibility

    Round table members

     

    Reference

    6.1

    Action item

    Dispute Resolution – Test Case Litigation Program

    Additional information on the test case litigation program supplied to members.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Review and Dispute Resolution

     

    Reference

    6.2

    Action item

    Dispute Resolution – Independent Assurance of Settlements (IAS)

    Provide annual update about the Independent Assurance of Settlements (IAS)

    Responsibility

    ATO, Review and Dispute Resolution

     

    Reference

    6.3

    Action item

    Mechanisms for implementing settlements

    Members to provide further feedback on clauses in settlement deeds, approaches to settlement and settlement processes that are preventing or unduly delaying the conclusion of a settlement deed.

    Responsibility

    Round table members

     

    Reference

    7.1

    Action item

    General Business

    ATO to investigate how the ATO can access the right stakeholders (including legal practitioners) for the right issues.

    Responsibility

    ATO, Review and Dispute Resolution

      Last modified: 07 Feb 2017QC 51012