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  • Small Business Liaison Group minutes 12 November 2015

    Meeting details

    Venue: ATO Offices, Canberra

    Date: 12 November 2015

    Chair: Steve Vesperman

    Contact: email or phone 02 6216 6211




    Nicholas Perrott

    Australian Business Software Industry Association

    John Osborn

    Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry

    Kerri Dickman

    CPA Australia

    Michael Croker

    Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

    Peter Strong

    Council of Small Business of Australia

    Jock Kreitals

    Real Estate Institute of Australia

    John Hart

    Restaurant & Catering Australia



    Chris Jordan

    Commissioner of Taxation

    Geoff Leeper

    Second Commissioner

    Steve Vesperman

    Deputy Commissioner Small Business

    James O’Halloran

    Deputy Commissioner Superannuation

    David Diment

    Deputy Commissioner Service Delivery

    Judy O’Connell

    Assistant Commissioner, Small Business




    Mark Brennan

    Australian Small Business Commissioner

    Marian Whalan

    Pharmacy Guild of Australia

    Heath Michael

    Australian Retailers Association

    Kym de Britt

    Franchise Council of Australia

    Willhelm Harnisch

    Master Builders Australia

    Peter Burn

    Australian Industry Group

    Agenda items

    1. Welcome and introductions

    Chair Steve Vesperman opened the meeting, welcoming members and the Commissioners. Steve explained some recent organisational and senior personnel changes to support the ATO's enhanced focus on the client experience. Steve will remain as Deputy Commissioner and client experience owner for Small Business, and Alison Lendon moving into the newly created role for Individuals. James O’Halloran (previously Deputy Commissioner Indirect Taxes) takes over Alison Lendon’s role in Superannuation

    The client experience owner role is critical to ensuring delivery on our commitment to be truly client centric in improving the experience of small business and setting the direction for all aspects of the ATO’s interactions with small business clients, to ensure we provide the right service and support at every stage to assist small business meet their obligations.

    The minutes from the previous meeting were endorsed.

    2. Commissioner's remarks

    Commissioner Chris Jordan thanked members for their contribution to the group, reflected generally on the year, including some particular areas of focus and interest for small business:

    • improvements to the ATO website, moving away from the library approach and making it function more effectively as a contemporary and user friendly self-help service.
    • further enhancements to the ATOapp, including voice authentication allowing individuals and sole traders to log in without the need to go through a ‘proof of identity’ process.
    • more online functions and enhanced support including the after-hours call back service for small business and a web chat facility.
    • the Small Business Newsroom service which provides practical and timely access to key information for a growing number of small businesses

    Small business are also getting hands on help to access and use these services through community outreach activities, such as the recent Community Conversations in regional Australia. Contact centre staff are actively signing businesses up for and assisting with online services during day to day calls. In 2016 there will be additional field staff providing small business with practical hands-on ’Show Me How’ guidance.

    Members noted these improvements with interest and were keen to promote them to their broader membership bases.

    3. Member organisation update

    The Chair invited members to share experiences, raise issues and ask questions. Key items discussed were:

    • the role of intermediaries, including tax agents and software developers in supporting transition to digital systems and services, including a specific project to get a detailed understanding of specific issues
    • the importance of having a focus on cyber security as small businesses are often a target for identity thieves seeking to obtain customer information
    • members continue to contribute to various specific issue consultations and working groups, for example on safe harbours and foreign investment
    • better ways to help small business people who are experiencing mental health issues also noting that this represents an increasing pressure on intermediaries
    • the importance of providing options and choices to take account of the experience and needs of businesses with mixed supplies in terms of options for GST reporting and the ongoing use of business benchmarks
    • members were very keen on the deductions recording feature in the ATOapp and were keen to see this initiative expanded for small business.

    4. Reinventing the ATO - priorities for 2016-17

    Judy O’Connell outlined the most recent developments in the reinvention journey for the Small Business client experience, including the proposed priority focus areas for the coming year:

    1. Use client profile analysis to better tailor support and assistance products and explore opportunities to increase understanding of small business for front line ATO employees who are calling or responding to queries from small business.
    2. Show me what and how (practical demonstrations and awareness building; hands on help for those who need support to use the digital services that are becoming available. )
    3. Fix the basics (streamline interactions; remove common irritants; look for further opportunities to reduce costs of compliance for business)
    4. Simplify reporting options with greater certainty for uncomplicated businesses, maximising use of pre-filled data and streamlining reporting obligations where possible
    5. Visibility of ATO data and information (transaction history; areas of concern; business viability). Members noted the usefulness of industry research profiles to support this work

    Members were very keen to see more on the support and assistance for small businesses to take up and use digital services and the ATO undertook to include this as an agenda item at the next meeting.

    5. Helping small business manage payments and debt

    Deputy Commissioner Cheryl-Lea Field provided the group with an update on the ATO’s approach to helping small business manage payments and debt, with a focus on making it as easy as possible for people to pay on time or manage their debt if they cannot pay on time.

    The ATO continues to work with the community to take timely action (including firmer action where appropriate for those trying to take unfair advantage over those who do pay on time). Some key improvements to making it easier to assist taxpayers with payment obligations include:

    • improved and clearer correspondence
    • due dates/calendar reminders through the ATOapp
    • prompts and reminders through email and SMS
    • an easier to use online payment system
    • online tools to help assess and establish viable payment plans

    Staff training and support resources are being improved to enable staff in the contact centres to assist in resolving issues having greater regard to client circumstances and client history. For those experiencing hardship, the ATO works with Financial Counselling Australia and similar agencies to provide necessary support.

    Action item:

    The ATO will work with CPA Australia to clarify how pre-payments work when a payment plan is in place.

    6. BAS simplification and Fix it squad updates

    Recent consultations on GST and associated record keeping through the Small Business Fix-it Squads initiative and the BAS Simplification project are continuing.

    Following outcomes from the Fix-it Squad on BAS: making it easier for small businesses, the ATO will pilot options to reduce reporting complexity. This will inform the design of the BAS simplification proposal in conjunction with other service enhancements, including payment reminders, easier to pay in advance and a dashboard view for clients.

    7. Review of ATO consultative arrangements

    The review found the current consultation arrangements are meeting the intent of the consultation program. The focus should be on continuing to refine the ATO’s consultation processes to improve the efficiency of and outcomes of the program.

    8. Wrap up and close

    Steve thanked members for their contribution throughout the year and noted that the bi-annual membership refresh (by way of expression of interest) is now open and invited current members to re-apply.

      Last modified: 10 Feb 2016QC 47948