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Resolving disputes

Last updated 18 July 2023

We seek to identify and resolve disputes as early as we can.


Many disputes involving information gathering arise because of simple misunderstandings. To help minimise misunderstandings, when possible we manage our information-gathering activities by:

  • gaining an understanding of your circumstances, what records you keep and how you keep them
  • working with you to obtain information in a mutually convenient format
  • clearly explaining why we need your information
  • discussing the due dates of our request for information with you
  • contacting you shortly after we send a request for information
  • having regular discussions with you on the progression of our information-gathering activities.

If you have a dispute with us in relation to our information-gathering activities, you can expect that we will:

  • seek to identify the issues in dispute and resolve them as early and fairly as possible
  • engage our advisers and decision makers if needed
  • consider the cost of managing the dispute for both of us
  • manage disputes in a courteous manner
  • follow our principles for managing disputes
  • use alternatives to more formal dispute resolution approaches, where appropriate
  • ensure we obtain relevant information and evidence
  • ensure we litigate the right cases for the right reasons.

View our Disputes policy for more about our principles for managing disputes.

Alternative dispute resolution

Agreeing to an alternative dispute resolution process when we plan our information gathering with you can help clarify and limit the scope and issues of a dispute. The process can occur at any stage of a dispute. Engaging in dispute resolution at the right time is more likely to resolve an issue.

We are committed to timely and cost-effective dispute resolution and aim to provide transparency around our processes. To help reduce disputes, when we request information for large or more complex cases, we will generally:

  • provide you with an opportunity to discuss the scope, appropriateness and relevance of the information we have requested – when possible, we will provide reasons for our request
  • work with you to identify the most efficient way to respond to our information request – when there are significant difficulties in providing the information requested, we will work with you to identify alternative documents
  • consider whether other information sources could minimise compliance costs – but there are times when we require specific documents and cannot accept alternatives or substitutes
  • give you an opportunity to explain the information and documents you provide.

For more routine matters and smaller or less-complex cases, including high-volume requests, we will usually provide a contact person so that you can discuss our request, if necessary.

For more about our policies and guidelines for attempting to resolve or limit disputes by alternative means, refer to PS LA 2013/3 - Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in ATO disputes.

Mutual expectations

If a dispute arises when we are gathering information, we will seek to resolve it with you as early and fairly as possible, to avoid it developing into a more formal dispute. You are encouraged to discuss your concerns with our officer managing your case in the first instance.

What to expect from us

To resolve disagreements before they become more formal disputes, we will:

  • use open and transparent dialogue to ensure we have a shared understanding of the issues and relevant facts of your matter
  • request the information we need to make our decision, and explain why we need it
  • explain our view, listen to your views, and consider any issues or alternative views you put forward
  • identify issues we agree on and work with you to identify and resolve any issues in dispute
  • when possible, accept information in a different format if you are unable to give it to us in the format we have requested
  • engage you early and regularly for cases that are larger or more complex, such as large business and international issues
  • follow through on any issues in a prompt manner to seek their resolution
  • have our senior officers available to settle disagreements when you ask for an issue to be escalated.

Our obligation to act as a model litigant applies to proceedings before courts, tribunals, inquiries and commissions. The obligation extends to arbitration and alternative dispute resolution processes.

In handling claims, our officers and lawyers are to act with complete propriety and fairness and in accordance with the highest professional standards. They are not to start legal proceedings unless they are satisfied litigation is the most suitable method to resolve a dispute.

For more about how we conduct litigation, see PS LA 2009/9 - Conduct of ATO litigation and engagement of ATO Dispute Resolution

What we expect from you

To resolve disagreements before they become more formal disputes, we expect you to:

  • give us all relevant information so we can make correct and timely decisions
  • respond promptly and accurately if we ask you for information or clarification about something
  • clearly explain the reasons why you cannot give us the information we have requested – and offer alternative information when possible
  • let us know as soon as possible if you consider the information we have requested will not resolve the issue at hand – and tell us what information you consider should be provided
  • give us your view on how the relevant laws apply to your circumstances, if you consider this would help us
  • let us know as soon as possible if you think we have misunderstood something or made a mistake
  • ensure that your representatives are prepared, willing and appropriately skilled to work with us to resolve a disagreement, and have the authority to do so.

Escalation to our senior officers

We encourage open dialogue. Your feedback is welcome at any stage during our compliance activity. We give you access to our senior officers when issues need to be escalated. Feedback you provide or concerns you raise will not influence our view of your compliance or your future interactions with us.

If you believe our officers have not conducted themselves according to the principles and practices in these guidelines, a senior officer will be available to hear your concerns. We take any claim of abuse of our formal powers seriously. We consider the facts and circumstances of each case. Our investigations could result in counselling or disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved.

There are consequences for not complying with our formal notice. If you receive a notice from us that you disagree with, you should contact us before the due date. If there is a delay in giving us your information, we expect you to discuss this with our compliance team – early discussions help to identify and resolve issues causing the delay. This can give you clarity about our information request, resolve the reasons for the delay and canvass future action should a resolution not be reached. Some matters will require escalation within your own organisation or within ours to a senior officer.

Our escalation process is intended to help resolve information-gathering issues without us needing to use our formal powers. The role of our senior officer in these circumstances is not to assume control of the compliance activity, as that responsibility will usually remain with our compliance team. Instead, the senior officer will work with you and the compliance team to try to resolve the issues. At the end of this escalation process, if the matter is not resolved, each party should clearly understand the other’s position, the issues and the next course of action.

It is helpful if we agree on an escalation plan at the beginning of the compliance activity. This would generally include the contact details of your senior representatives and the name of our senior officer who can be contacted for unresolved matters.

Our officers will negotiate with the taxpayer to try and resolve any information gathering issues that arise. If the issue cannot be resolved it will be escalated to a senior officer.

Figure 7 Escalation to our senior officers

This image shows the process for escalating issues to our senior officers, as described in the previous paragraphs.
Making a complaint

If you have concerns that you cannot resolve with our compliance team, you can escalate the matter to our senior officer nominated at the start of your case.

If you are still not satisfied you can make a complaint to us – we try to resolve complaints quickly and fairly. If you are not satisfied with how we have handled your complaint, the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation OmbudsmanExternal Link (IGTO) may be able to help you.

Your rights

It is important that you are aware of your rights and obligations when dealing with us. If we intend to undertake a compliance activity in relation to your tax affairs, we will advise you about your rights and obligations by providing information set out in the ATO charter – what you need to know.

Privacy and confidentiality

The Privacy Act contains provisions designed to safeguard your information. These provisions aim to balance the protection of individual privacy against public interests, such as the efficient functioning of government.

We are required to comply with the Australian Privacy Principles contained in the Privacy Act. The principles tell us how we must deal with your personal information. They set out our obligations to act in an open and transparent way when:

  • collecting personal information, including how we will use your information and for what purpose
  • storing and securing personal information
  • giving you access to, and allowing you to correct, personal information
  • checking the accuracy of personal information before using it, and only using it for administering the laws
  • using and disclosing personal information.

To find out how we deal with collection, storage, access to, use and disclosure of personal information, see the ATO privacy policy.

If you think our actions have breached your privacy or the confidentiality of your tax information, your first step is to try to resolve the matter with our case officer.

If the matter cannot be resolved with our case officer, you can escalate the matter to our senior officer nominated at the start of your case.

If you are still not satisfied, you can make a complaint to us – we try to resolve complaints quickly and fairly. If you are not satisfied with how we have handled your complaint, the Office of the Australian Information CommissionerExternal Link may be able to help you.

Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 gives you the right to access information in documents we hold about you. You have the right to ask us to change personal information we hold about you if you think the information is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading.

If you want to access any of our documents, you should contact us first. We can provide copies of some of the more commonly requested documents without the need for you to make a freedom-of-information request.

We may refuse to give you access to documents if they are exempt – for example, when a request is made while you are under audit or enquiry, and disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice an investigation or the proper administration of the law.