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  • Client communication

     

    There are two features you can use to access your clients' communications in Online services for agents (OSfA):

    • Client mail Inbox – if you have set your clients' communication preferences to your practice, you will receive our digital communications here
    • Communication history – allows you access to a list of most communications we have issued to your clients.

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    Communication preferences

    Communication preferences is a feature in OSfA that lets you and your client choose where our digital communications are sent.

    We created Communication preferences to respond to your feedback about:

    • sending communications directly to a client's myGov Inbox
    • reducing the amount of paper you receive from us.

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    Using Communication preferences

    You can set a client's communication preference to reflect their circumstances and your engagement with us. It is not compulsory to use this feature. You can choose to apply preferences to as many or as few clients as you wish.

    Communication preferences will not change activity statement lodgment channels or who will receive activity statement notifications.

    Before setting a communication preference you must:

    • be appointed by the client as their registered agent
    • have their written authority to set the communication preference.

    In addition to your Practice mail Inbox, Communication preferences introduces a new mailbox called the Client mail Inbox in OSfA. It enables you to view in real time what digital communications we are sending your clients. You can also continue to run reports in Communication history.

    If your client’s preference is:

    • for their communications to be sent to your practice – we will send these communications to your Client mail Inbox
    • to receive their communications directly – we will send communications to their myGov Inbox (if they have a myGov account linked to the ATO) or to the postal address we have on record.

    Note: If you set a client's communication preference to your practice and they have a myGov account linked to the ATO, they will no longer receive a notification that they have mail. You will be responsible for notifying your client about those communications.

    Your clients will still be able to view their communications in the Communication history tab in Online services for individuals and sole traders.

    We'll continue to send communications as we do now if you don't set your client's communication preferences.

    • Tax agents can set preferences for six Communication types (based on a client's authorisation):
    • income tax
    • activity statement related
    • study and training support loans
    • superannuation
    • debt
    • employer and business obligations.

    BAS agents can only set preferences for 2 communication types:

    • activity statement related
    • debt.

    Some communications cannot be sent digitally. These will continue to be sent by post. However, we will progressively enable more communications to be sent digitally over the coming years.

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    Client authorisation requirements

    You should only set communication preferences for communication types a client has authorised you to act on. Before you set or update their communication preferences, ensure you have clear and written authorisation from a client. You should:

    • talk to your client and agree on what communications you will receive (on their behalf) and what they will receive and action. For example, OSfA allows you to set a client’s communication preferences to receive debt communications – this may or may not be a service you provide and you may not want to receive their debt communications
    • let your client know what happens if they want you to set their communication preference to either you as their agent or themselves.

    You can view a client's digital communications relevant to your role in Communication history but it will not alert you when new communications are received.

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    Preferred address for service

    Every taxpayer is required to give us at least one preferred address for the service of ATO communications. If taxpayers want to nominate, change or withdraw their preferred address for service they must lodge an approved form.

    The preferred address for service must be in Australia and can be:

    • a physical address (for example a street address)
    • a postal address (for example a post office box)
    • an electronic address (for example a digital inbox).

    When a taxpayer registers for a myGov account and links it to the ATO, their myGov Inbox becomes their preferred address, as stated in the terms and conditions.

    Agent and client declaration requirements

    When you set or change your client’s communication preferences in OSfA, legally you are lodging an approved form on their behalf to change their preferred address (or addresses) for the service of ATO communications.

    Because of this, and before you set or update a client’s communication preferences, the law requires you to both:

    • receive authorisation in writing (either electronically or on paper) from your client
    • provide a declaration that you have received authorisation from your client to change their preferred address or addresses for service.

    Each time you set or change your client’s communication preferences, you will be asked to tick a declaration box.

    A client is required to retain the authorisation (or a copy) they give you for up to five years, depending on their circumstances. We recommend you also keep a copy for your own records.

    The authorisation can be stored electronically regardless of whether it was received by email or in paper form.

    How to obtain written authorisation from your clients

    When you engage a new client, you could incorporate their written authorisation into your letter of engagement. You may ask them to provide this by email, fax or in paper form.

    For existing clients, it may be more efficient to ask for their written authorisation via email or during your next interaction with them.

    To meet the legal requirements, we recommend clearly explaining to your client which ATO communication types you want sent digitally to you and which will be sent directly to them.

    If your client is responsible for multiple entities, they can provide written authorisation for you to set the communication preferences for more than one entity at the same time, if the authorisation:

    • is provided by the primary contact – for example an individual, trustee or director
    • clearly states the communication preferences for each entity and communication type.

    If you represent your client in both their capacity as an individual and trustee – for example, for their family trust – then their written authorisation (as a primary contact) will need to clearly state their communication preferences relating to their individual and trust tax affairs.

    Written authorisation example

    This is an example you could use for obtaining a client’s written authorisation to set their communication preferences. Alternatively, you could combine this information with other written authorisations, such as new client or lodgment declarations.

    Example letter to client

    Dear <client>,

    As part of the Australian Taxation Office’s commitment to improving online services, a service known as Communication preferences has been introduced.

    With your written authorisation, this service will allow tax agents to set which ATO communications are sent to <my/our> practice digitally (on your behalf) and which communications are sent directly to you.

    Communication preferences will be set on your behalf based on your instructions. To allow <us/me> to set your communication preferences I will need your written authority.

    <We/I> recommend that the following communication types are sent directly to <us/me> digitally:

    <Income tax>

    <Superannuation>

    <Study and training support loans>

    <Activity statement related>

    <Debt>

    <Employer and business obligations>

    If you agree, the ATO will send digitally enabled communications for the above communication types to our new secure inbox.

    If you agree to have the above communication types sent to <me/us> digitally, please respond to this email and tell <us/me>.

    If you do not respond by <insert date>, <we/I> will assume that you do not agree to allow us to set which ATO communications are sent to <us/me> on your behalf, and there will be no changes to how you receive ATO communications.

    If you have any questions please feel free to contact <me/us> on <contact details>.

    Kind regards,

    <Agent>

    End of example

    Note: You are not required to obtain written authority for Activity statement lodgment notifications. These are a notification that the activity statement is ready to lodge, not the lodgment itself.

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    Setting preferences

    Before setting a preference, consider if its functionality will benefit your entire practice.

    You need to set default communication preferences before you can set any individual preferences. This allows you to set, at the practice level, the default communication preferences (or favourites) that can be applied to your clients. This is particularly useful if your practice has multiple clients with similar requirements.

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    Setting default communication preferences

    Only a Principal Authority or an Authorised Administrator can set and change default communication preferences. When the default is set for the first time, these settings will not be applied to your clients.

    How to set your default communication preferences:

    • At the agent home page, select Communication then Preferences.
    • Select Practice or Client to determine who we should send communications to for each communication type.
    • Select Apply.

    To change your default communication preference, you will need an updated written authorisation from any clients who have your default setting. The default preferences will be automatically updated for all clients who had the default setting originally applied.

    You can download a list of your clients that you have set with default preferences, by selecting:

    • Advanced search and filter by:  
      • Communication type – select the communication type (you can only filter one type at a time)
      • Destination – select Set to my practice default
       
    • Download and print or save the search results as a HTML or CSV file.

    Setting client communication preferences

    To set a client's communication preferences, you must have access to update client addresses in Access Manager.

    You can either apply your default preferences or set personalised communication preferences tailored to each client in OSfA. This is useful if you have clients with communication needs that are different to your other client's communication preferences.

    Communication preferences can be added:

    • to a client when you add them to your client list
    • individually in their Profile page
    • to up to 25 clients at a time using the Bulk preferences functionality.

    You must receive written authority from your client before you can set or update their communication preferences.

    You can set communication preferences for a single client, if you:

    • select a client
    • at the Client summary select Profile then Communication preferences
    • then select either:  
      • set to My practice default communication preferences
      • a combination of Practice or Client to determine who we should send your client's communications to for each communication type.
       

    To use the Bulk preferences function:

    • select Communication then Bulk preferences
    • create a list of up to 25 clients
    • select Apply default communication preference or a combination of Practice or Client to determine who we should send these clients' communications to for each communication type
    • select Submit.

    Client mail Inbox

    The Client mail Inbox allows you to view your clients' communications that have been sent to you digitally.

    You can access the mailbox when you:

    • customise the home page in OSfA to add the Client mail feature. This will show you when there are new unread communications in the inbox.
    • select Communication then Client mail.

    The inbox will display the last 35 days of undeleted communications. It can be filtered by client, date or communication type.

    You can also retrieve up to 60 days of undeleted communications.

    The inbox will not have all your clients' communications, but only those communication types where the preference is set to you. You will need to check Communication history for:

    • communications sent to your clients
    • other communication types such as SMS and paper.

    Any communication issued to your Client mail Inbox will also be visible in your:

    • Communication history (previously called the Client Communication List (CCL))
    • client's Communication history.

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    Communication history

    The Communication history function in OSfA gives you online access to most communications we have issued for your clients or you as their agent.

    You can:

    • view most letters, emails and SMS messages as soon as we know the communication has been sent
    • access up to five years of communications.

    Not all our communications with you and your clients are available in the Communication history. However, we will continue to add more communications types to enhance this function further.

    You can use filters in the Communication history to view:

    • All clients, one client or up to three clients at a time
    • Time period – Last 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, 5 years or select a date
    • Channel – myGov, Email, SMS, Paper, Agent digital or ATO Online.

    You can also view a specific client's communication history when you are in their account by selecting Profile then Communication history.

    Below are some of the communications available.

    Tax agents can access:

    • notices, such as notices of assessment
    • statements of account
    • payment arrangement letters
    • payment or lodgment reminders
    • letters about PAYG instalments
    • letters about super contributions from employers
    • referral warning letters
    • tax receipts.

    BAS agents can access:

    • payment arrangement letters
    • payment or lodgment reminders
    • letters about GST registrations
    • letters about PAYG instalments.

    Feedback on communication preferences

    If you have any feedback about the Communication preferences or Communication history features, let us know by using the Give us feedback link located at the bottom of each screen in OSfA.

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    Last modified: 15 Oct 2020QC 61788