Copying and removing information
We can seek a wide range of information, but we usually only access information required for a particular enquiry. Wide-ranging searches are generally not conducted without a specific purpose.
Our access powers extend to all books, documents, goods and other property – whether or not they are found in a building or other place. The right of access applies to both paper records, such as entries in a diary or notebook, and information stored electronically.
Examples of information stored electronically include files stored on a computer, server, external hard drive, thumb drive, mobile phone or camera. We explain our approach to gathering electronic information under Gathering electronic information.
Under our access powers we have the right to make copies of, or take extracts from, any documents for any of the purposes of the respective laws we administer. This may include unopened mail that we find at your premises. However, we are not authorised to copy material that is not relevant to our purpose under the law, or seize or remove documents or books from your premises without your consent.
We are also able to inspect, examine, count, measure, weigh, gauge, take samples and test or analyse any goods or other property.
We use a range of techniques to make copies and take extracts – these include photocopies, photographs, videorecording or scans. Machine-readable disks, hard copy or tapes may be used to copy information stored on your computer.
We may take photographs or a videorecording of premises, a production process or articles in safe deposit boxes. We will only take photographs and make video recordings for the purpose of a relevant law and in accordance with privacy laws.
Record of removal
Whenever possible, we will copy documents (or other records) at your premises or the place we access. We may bring a photocopier or scanner to make these copies. If a scanner is used, we will usually provide you with a copy of the scanned material if you request it.
We do not have the right to seize your documents. We may seek your permission to take your records back to our office for examination and copying.
If you allow us to remove records, we will:
- usually make a record of that conversation and/or execute a written agreement with you – a copy of the record or agreement will be provided to you
- issue you with a receipt which describes the documents in as much detail as is practicable
- generally ask you to sign an authority stating that you have voluntarily authorised the removal of the documents
- deliver the records to you if you ask for their return.
If you do not permit us to remove the documents from your premises and it is not practical for us to copy them, we may issue a formal notice requiring production of the documents.
Records held by third parties
We are empowered to access records held by third parties, including lawyers, accountants, tax agents, employers, suppliers and banks. We seek to work cooperatively with these third parties and explain the purpose of our enquiries where possible – subject to privacy and secrecy considerations.
We will generally contact you before we seek access to third-party documents or information. However, there are some situations when we may not contact you beforehand, including when:
- we are collecting information about a large number of taxpayers in similar circumstances
- we are collecting information to help decide which individuals or businesses to audit
- we are making enquiries under an international tax treaty
- we are collecting information relating to enquiries, reviews or investigations under the promoter penalty laws
- transfer pricing audits are involved
- we decide access without notice is appropriate
- we have asked you for the information, but it has not been given to us
- there is a potential risk to the safety of our officers
- the matter relates to refund integrity
- you cannot be contacted
- it is otherwise impossible, impracticable or inappropriate to contact you.
When we visit third-party premises, we usually seek agreement on how we will:
- access documents stored on a computer
- inspect documents subject to claims of legal professional privilege, the accountants' concession or the corporate board advice concession.
If we do not know the specific document or information we require, we will look to minimise the volume of data accessed and the costs involved – for example, an IT employee of the third party may work with us to assist our access.
Example – Records held by a bank
Rowena has a large portfolio of shares. She keeps her records on share purchases and sales at her bank.
We need to examine Rowena’s share trading records for the purposes of a taxation law, but she has refused to supply the records.
We may use our access powers under section 353-15 of Schedule 1 to the TAA 1953 to gain access to the records at the bank.
Example – Records held by a tax agent
Our officer, Phil, has requested information from a tax agent for an income tax audit.
The tax agent has disregarded Phil’s request and not given him any information or provided documents. The reasons given include a lack of resources and that the client’s fees are unpaid. These grounds were considered by the audit team to be unsatisfactory.
As neither the tax agent nor the taxpayer have cooperated with us, Phil may use our access powers to obtain the information and documents at the tax agent's office and the taxpayer's business premises.
End of example