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  • Statement from ATO in regards to 'Your Right to Know' campaign

    The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) strongly disagrees with the allegation by the ‘Your Right to Know’ coalition of media outlets saying, “The Tax Office can take money directly out of people’s accounts but you’re not allowed to know”.

    Commissioner Chris Jordan said “This statement is categorically incorrect and we strongly refute and object to it. We do not take money from people’s bank accounts without extensively attempting to inform them first”.

    “This misleading statement would have you believe that we go about helping ourselves to large sums of money from people’s accounts at a whim without them knowing. This is ridiculously incorrect”.

    When it comes to debt collection, we attempt to engage with taxpayers for an extended period, and provide them with every chance to rectify their tax situation and pay the amounts due under the law. We use garnishees and other firmer actions only after these attempts to engage the taxpayer have failed.

    We have a legal obligation to collect debts from taxpayers, however using garnishee powers, which have been part of Australian tax laws for several decades, are only ever a last resort when the taxpayer has refused to engage with us. On average, we interact or attempt to contact a taxpayer 19 times before exercising garnishee powers.

    When pursuing a debt, we consider all aspects of a taxpayer’s circumstances. This extends to offering payment plans, and where taxpayers experience serious hardship we provide targeted support using a range of debt relief options including waiving penalties and interest charges.

    The fictitious example used in the advertising campaign and associated website is alarmist and misleading. We are concerned this coverage serves only to create tension and worry for taxpayers where it did not previously exist, and perhaps even stop people from coming to us to get their tax affairs back on track.

    If you need to discuss a debt with us, you can contact the ATO on 13 11 42, 8.00am – 8.00pm (local time) Monday to Friday and 10.00am – 4.00pm (local time) Saturday and Sunday. 

    Our message to all taxpayers is “If you have a debt and are trying to do the right thing, we're committed to understanding your situation and helping you,” Mr Jordan said.

    Furthermore, we do all we can to be open and transparent when responding to media requests. We have a dedicated Media Unit that collaborates with journalists to assist with their enquiries.

    In 2017–18, we responded to 622 enquiries from media outlets, and facilitated 183 interviews with journalists.

    Last modified: 22 Oct 2019QC 60449