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  • Individual Taxpayer Liaison Group minutes 9 July 2015

    Meeting details

    Venue: ATO National Office Canberra

    Date: 9 July 2015

    Start: 9:30am

    Finish: 1:00pm

    Chair: Steve Vesperman

    Contact and Secretariat: Suzie Holmes

    Contact phone: (02) 6216 6377




    Angela Keating

    Adult Multicultural Education Service

    Robert Curley

    Association of Independent Retirees

    Edward Patching

    Australian Shareholders Association

    Erin Gillen

    Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia

    Carmel Franklin

    Financial Counselling Australia

    Craig Hall

    National Seniors

    Letty Tsoi

    Taxpayers Australia

    Simone Abbot

    The Treasury



    Steve Vesperman

    Deputy Commissioner Small Business/Individual Taxpayers

    Cheryl-Lea Field

    Deputy Commissioner, Debt

    Robyn Clayton

    Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Small Business/Individual Taxpayers

    Adam Kendrick

    Assistant Commissioner, Small Business/Individual Taxpayers

    Julie McKay

    (acting) Senior Director, Superannuation




    Frank Brass

    H & R Block

    Therese Sands

    People with Disability Australia

    Eun Ju Kim-Baker

    Youth representative


    Individual Taxpayer Liaison Group agendas, minutes and related papers are not binding on the ATO or any of the other bodies referred to in these papers. While every effort is made to accurately record the views expressed, the wording necessarily represents a summary of statements of general position only, and care should be taken in interpreting those statements. These papers reflect the position at the date of release (unless otherwise noted) and readers should note that the position on any issue may subsequently change.

    Agenda items

    1. Welcome and introductions

    The Chair, Steve Vesperman, Deputy Commissioner Small Business/Individual Taxpayers, opened the meeting and thanked everyone for their attendance.

    Steve noted that it is just over a week into Tax Time, and that there have been some early difficulties for people lodging online. Steve explained that one of the initiatives the ATO is deploying this year is the introduction of an ATO online account to deliver a similar experience people have with their online banking. There have been some transitional issues in doing that, including capacity problems which have contributed to the slowness and errors people have experienced.

    However, online lodgements are still ahead of where they were at the same time last year. The ATO has now largely resolved the issues and most people are able to log in and lodge online without issues, however are continuing to monitor the system performance closely so we are ready to respond to issues quickly.

    The minutes of the meeting held on 19 March 2015 were endorsed without change.

    2. Every rear counts

    Steve Vesperman opened discussion on this item, which is a continuing conversation about the work the ATO is doing with the community to improve services and design them for the user. This program of work will continue over several years, with changes being co-designed, tested and continually refined.

    Every year counts gives the community a 12-month view of improvements we're making to the experience everyone has with the ATO. They’ll be continually updated as more initiatives are confirmed and completed.

    For individual taxpayers this means:

    Better services across government

    You’ll be able to access government services digitally through an individual profile. With your information and dealings in one place, you’ll receive tailored services and save time.

    Make it easy

    Information you provide through that entry point can be shared across agencies, meaning you won’t have to repeatedly tell government the same information. Government services will be coordinated, making it easier for you and improving your experience across government agencies you interact with.

    My circumstances are understood

    Communications, interactions and services you receive will be tailored for you. You’ll know what you need to do and what your entitlements are. You’ll be able to choose self-service options if you prefer.

    Right tax at the right time

    You’ll move towards a more accurate tax position throughout the year to minimise debt and refunds. This will minimise end-of-year surprises.

    A minimal touch

    Managing your tax and super will be simple as most of the information will be provided by others (for example, automatically filling your tax return). This automated system will minimise mistakes.

    3. ATO website enhancements

    Christina Byrnes, Director, Education and Engagement Integration Strategy provided an update to the group on the ATO website enhancement work. We are continuing to streamline and improve the content on as part of the broader program of work to create a much better online experience. This covers all areas of the online experience including information that is easier to find and use, more forms and transactions available online, improved tools and calculators.

    Since our last update, we have refreshed a further 11 topics for individual taxpayers and will update the remaining topics this calendar year. The results and early feedback from user testing are encouraging, indicating that people are finding it easier to get to the most commonly asked questions and transactions. We are also seeing promising feedback from the improved search function, with more users reporting that they found the information they were seeking.

    Work will continue to refine web content and provide an easier pathway through the written information to relevant, tools, calculators and transactions. This includes developing an easier way for people to move between the simple/overview level information to the more complex information for those who need or want more detail.

    The feedback on this work was generally positive and a number of members were keen to discuss more specific areas for further improvements. Steve encouraged members to explore the updated topics further and provide feedback out of session and reiterated the standing offer for the ATO to meet directly with member organisations out of session to explore any aspect of our work to improve

    Members were provided with a list of the topics relevant for individuals showing the status of this work to share with members of their organisations.

    The ATO is also planning to introduce a new look to to further enhance people’s online experience. The new look is less cluttered, has improved menus and navigation to make it easier to find things quickly and works better on tablets and phones. The new look is expected to be launched in mid to late August, however the launch will only occur when we can be confident that the changes will work and not disrupt services, particularly given the volume of users during Tax Time.

    Action item:

    ITLG 2015/07-01


    Due date:

    Prior to next meeting

    Christina Byrnes

    ATO representatives to meet with member organisations out of session to discuss improvements and feedback on specific areas of the web content. This item was completed throughout July/August

    4. Tax Time 2015 update including myTax uptake and future developments

    Graham Whyte, Assistant Commissioner Individual Taxpayers, provided the group with an update on Tax Time 2015 and future developments.

    This tax time, work has been guided by our view to transforming and improving the client experience. The ATO has a four-phased communications approach aligned to the client experience - the lead up, commencement, conclusion and post-tax time period.

    During these phases we encourage and support taxpayers to lodge online and use myTax, in addition to what they need to know at tax time.

    We use a broad channel mix in the promotion strategy, including paid advertising, public relations, social media, direct communications and media. The integrated use of these channels takes taxpayers through to redesigned lodge online information on our website. The lodge online page directs self-preparers to a series of pre-lodgment questions. The answers to these questions determine which lodgment product is right for the taxpayer (myTax or e-tax), and delivers the tailored landing page with all the information they need in order to lodge this year.

    To date, we have seen an increase in lodgments compared to this time last year.

    For first time lodgers, this year we’ve made it easier. We designed a way for them to verify their identity with us –by calling our call centres they can provide us proof of identity information, we then provide them with a linking code so they can create their myGov account and lodge online. We created tailored communication products for this specific audience, including bulk emails (sent to over 400,000 individuals who applied for a TFN in the last 2 years but have not yet lodged a return) and an infographic, promoted through PR activities.

    The ATO is also finalising work on the myDeductions tool in the ATO app, available from 20 July. The myDeductions tool makes it easier and more convenient for taxpayers to keep a record of and claim work-related expenses as an employee. In 2016 taxpayers can upload their completed deductions to the ATO and we will pre-fill the individual income tax return, or this data can be shared via email.

    The group were supportive of the tailored and personalised approach, specifically noting the good use of how-to videos within the direct emails which prove to be helpful tools for taxpayers. We are committed to continued work with the group on where we can further support taxpayers.

    5. Certainty notification

    Adam Kendrick, Assistant Commissioner attended to update the group on the ATO’s certainty notification project and invite them to provide feedback.

    In March 2015, the Commissioner of Taxation announced that from September 2015, the ATO will be issuing an “OK letter” to half a million taxpayers (as a pilot) within one month of lodging their tax returns.

    This letter will confirm that their 2015 tax return is closed from further review providing them with a greater level of certainty. The pilot program for the individuals market will be tailored towards low-risk taxpayers with simple straight-forward affairs. This initiative reflects our emphasis on helping and rewarding people who comply with their obligations.

    By using pre-filling and background analytics, we can provide this confirmation to these taxpayers within about a month of them lodging their return – except in cases where there is good reason to suspect false claims.

    The outcomes sought from this project are to:

    • provide individuals with confidence that they are doing the right thing in meeting their tax obligations
    • encourages more people to willingly do the right thing and value the recognition.

    The ATO has been consulting across forums, including the ATO Tax Practitioner Advisory Group, on this project. The group discussed and provided feedback on the project and the draft letter for consideration by the ATO. There were some concerns about mixed messages in the draft letter, there was agreement the focus should be more on the support and thankyou messages. Steve highlighted learnings from previous work with small business assistance visits and commissioner guarantee which align with this work.

    Further questions were raised on the perception that someone who does not receive a letter may think they have made a mistake if a friend or family member does receive one.

    Further user testing will be done on the letter and also the web content that will relate to this project. The ATO will provide the group with updated versions following user testing (sent 17 August 2015). Overall the group are positive about the initiative.

    6. Our approach to collecting debt

    Cheryl-Lea Field, Deputy Commissioner Debt, provided the group with an overview and update of work to improve taxpayer experience when we need to contact them about outstanding debt.

    The ATO recognises that the majority of people pay on time (95% pay within 90 days), so it is important to support and assist people to continue to do this.

    We have shifted our focus from debt to ‘payment thinking’. In practical terms, this means we are:

    • encouraging people to understand their tax payment obligations and plan for these
    • making it easier to pay by increasing the number of easy payment options
    • providing tailored support to those who want to pay but are experiencing hardship
    • making it easier to self-manage debt by continuing to expand and enhance our digital services.

    This involves changes to our business processes including our debt letters we send when taxpayers have a debt. One of the messages we heard from the community is that they want us to take timely stronger action, including appropriate legal action, when people don’t pay, to prevent them from gaining an unfair financial advantage over those who do pay on time. Our research and experience also tells us that often when someone has difficulty paying, it is because of a significant life event, which requires an appropriate response of understanding and support to get back on track, including so that people feel more comfortable to contact us when they run into difficulty. We have tried to strike the balance by making improvements to our processes, to make it easier for taxpayers to manage if they have a debt, but ensure we move to stronger action where appropriate.

    We have made improvements to our correspondence, systems and phone procedures using insights from analysis of ATO data and other research, as well as input from taxpayers and the community. The wording and presentation of the information in the debt letters incorporates behavioural insights principles to illicit action from taxpayers to either pay or contact us for a payment arrangement.

    Simple changes to our systems, such as a more obvious “pay now” link in electronic correspondence and keeping a consistent payment reference number which people can use every time are making a big difference to the proportion of payments made. People can also make their own payment arrangements online if their income tax debt is under $50,000.

    The ATO is continuing to monitor the impact of the new approach on encouraging earlier payments and engagement with us to manage debts actively.

    Key changes to the letters bring them more into line with the type of letters people get from private organisations, such as phone companies, when they have not paid a bill, for example:

    • colour coding of letters
    • making the amount payable now much clearer
    • much simpler language
    • a timeline showing the person where they are and what will happen next if they don’t take action.

    Cheryl-Lea committed to providing sample copies of the letters for the group (sent 17 August 2015).

    Member feedback

    The group discussed where situations arise when a taxpayer wants to pay their debt and the ATO is asking for more than they can afford. The ATO understands these difficulties and highlights there is an obligation to help people develop an arrangement that is sustainable. Where payments are too little, the risk is falling further behind. There is a process for debt relief for genuine taxpayer hardship. In some cases insolvency may be the best course of action for the person, but the ATO is aware that there may be cultural barriers to people taking this option.

    Members also asked about the use of external debt collection agencies. Steve Vesperman explained that the ATO does use these agencies and clarified that the debt is still to the ATO. These agencies work as an ATO representative under strict controls and guidelines, including the way they deal with people who have debts to the ATO and the way they store and manage taxpayer information. The arrangements with these agencies are regularly reviewed to ensure they remain appropriate.

    Debt strategy

    Members noted with interest the work to make it easier for people who have tax debts to deal with the ATO and get back on track with payments. They also sought an update on the research on 3rd party debt (Fjord), which the ATO agreed to provide at the next meeting.

    Action item:

    ITLG 2015/07-01


    Due date:

    Prior to next meeting

    Deputy Commissioner Debt

    Update on the debt strategy at next meeting


    Action item:

    ITLG 2015/07-01


    Due date:

    Prior to next meeting

    Deputy Commissioner, Debt

    Investigate and clarify the verification process for financial counsellors when they contact the ATO on behalf of a taxpayer. Provide response to Financial Counselling Australia out of session.

    7. Member organisation update/general business

    Digital services improvements

    Members expressed general support for the improvements to digital services, but are also concerned that the ATO should understand the needs of and provide appropriate support for people in making that transition, for example older Australians and migrant groups. People in these groups may need additional support around the use of technology and also reassurance that they can trust Government with online transactions. Steve Vesperman acknowledged these concerns and noted that some groups will require additional support and that the transition will be over many years. The ATO is very willing to explore what types of support would work, including through shopfronts and visits to show people how to use the services.

    Action item:

    ITLG 2015/07-01


    Due date:

    Prior to next meeting


    Action item: Members requested an update on the help and assist program, Tax Help, including the numbers and uptake this year.

    Supporting diverse audiences (in language content)

    Members representing migrant and refugee groups are keen to explore what further work could be done with the ATO to improve the level of support for people new to the tax system.

    While online services and information are helpful, access to computers can be an issue and content is not always available in emerging languages. Adult Multicultural Education Service are providing their clients with a take home DVD on Tax in Australia which has been very useful but they find their resources are stretched and there is a demand from their clients for more information and support.

    The ATO agreed to work out of session with Adult Multicultural Education Service, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia and other organisations as appropriate to build on the work they are currently doing with our ATO’s Access & Diversity unit in this regard, including options to expand face to face support and education strategies specifically for these groups.

    Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia have released their 2014-15 Access and Equity reportExternal Link which will be shared with the group (sent 17 August 2015).

    Action item:

    ITLG 2015/07-01


    Due date:

    Prior to next meeting

    Christina Byrnes

    Christina Byrnes to make contact with Angela out of session to arrange a discussion about the potential to provide further support through education strategies targeted to diverse audiences. Angela was contacted in August to make arrangements to discuss.

    Tax reform consultations

    The Treasury representative noted that submissions for the Re:think (PDF, 4.03MB)This link will download a file paper closed on 1 June, with around 750 submissions received. In view of the level of interest in some issue, the consultation period was extended (via press release) to 24 July. There is a significant taskforce in Treasury, reflecting the fact that this work is a priority for Government.

    Taxpayers Australia have also prepared summary articles of the Re:think discussion paper that has been well received by their own members, and will distribute to members of the ITLG (sent 17 August 2015).

    Consultation arrangements

    One member noted the review of ATO consultation arrangements where members had been approached to participate in a survey and expressed a concern that the survey process could have been more personalised. The ATO is currently considering the outcomes of the review but noted this feedback.

    7. Wrap up and close

    Chair Steve Vesperman thanked members for their contributions to the meeting and noted the ATO would give further consideration to the issues and ideas raised.

    The next meeting is scheduled for 29 October 2015 in Canberra.

    Feedback can be emailed to the secretariat at any time,

      Last modified: 12 Nov 2015QC 47336