Welcome and introduction
Chairperson Assistant Commissioner Sylvia Gallagher welcomed members, introduced the new Association of Accounting Technicians representative Lielette Calleja and ATO Client Engagement Director Wendy Perdrisat. Members were given the opportunity to table topics for discussion in other business and to declare any conflict of interest.
Action item 28102020-03 – The communications team are planning a session to discuss topics of interest to BAS agents such as improved communication, channel security, preferencing through software and visibility of correspondence recipients on Online Services for Agents (OSfA). This will be held in mid-2021.
All other action items have been closed.
Online Services for Agents
Director David Baker provided an update on research conducted to understand how frequently BAS agent authority was being removed from integrated client accounts by tax agents, and the reasons for the removal. The majority of instances were due to tax agents not being aware of the impacts of their actions.
As an interim solution the ATO is in the process of developing educational packages to inform agents of the impacts of removing listed BAS agents.
The ATO is prioritising work to harmonise various reports and minimise the risk of BAS agents being inadvertently removed by tax agents when running certain reports. Currently ATO systems limit how many BAS agents can be linked to a client’s integrated account.
Modernising Business Registers
Director Nicola Black and Relationship Director Julia Donohue provided an update on the modernising business registers program of work.
On 4 April 2021, the Commissioner of Taxation was appointed as the Registrar of a new modern registry service which will be established and progressively rolled out between 2021 and 2024.
Between April 2021 and 2024, the ATO will progressively transfer all 31 business registers from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Business Register (ABN), to the new Australian Business Registry Services (ABRS) platform, implemented by the ATO and administered by the Registrar.
The new register will:
- streamline how clients register, view and maintain business information with Government
- introduce the director identification number (director ID) initiative
- be implemented by the ATO and administered by the Registrar.
There will be no immediate changes to the public operation of the registers. Businesses will continue to access, interact with and use the registers in the same way they do now.
Director ID is a new requirement for company directors, both new and existing. It is a unique identifier that a director will retain for the future.
A private beta for the director ID application process will be held to ensure a seamless user experience. An agent will not be able to apply on behalf of the director for a director ID as individuals will need to prove their identity prior to obtaining a director ID.
Directors will need to sign in to ABRS online using the myGovID app. Find out more on how to set up myGovIDExternal Link
Members welcomed educational tools from the ATO to educate and assist clients including ‘how to’ videos and tip sheets.
Members recommended the ‘app’ logo not be the same colour as myGov or myGovID to avoid confusion.
Tax Practitioners Board update
Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) Secretary/Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Neill provided an update from the TPB.
The TPB is currently addressing expired Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) with a range of strategies including targeted letters and SMS messages. Additionally, tax practitioners are being reminded of their requirement to maintain their registration, including up to date PII details via various communications channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Webinars and eNews.
In 2020 the TPB ran an online campaign to encourage taxpayers to ensure that their tax agent was registered. This campaign will be re-run during June and July 2021.
The application fee to register or renew as a tax practitioner is subject to a consumer price index (CPI) adjustment on 1 July each year. Subjecting application fees to an annual CPI adjustment was introduced by the Government in the 2018–19 Federal Budget.
In December 2020, the Federal Court sentenced an unregistered agent to a seven-and-a-half-month term of imprisonment.
Treasury is actively finalising the proposed consultation framework for the TPB and TASA Review. The TPB will be seeking input from the Minister shortly. The TPB confirmed that it will consult and engage with key stakeholders in relation to the recommendations that have been identified as being implemented administratively by the TPB.
TPB webinars continue to be well attended. A webinarExternal Link will be held on 20 May 2021 in conjunction with the ATO. Board member Debra Anderson will be co presenting with ATO Individuals and Intermediaries Assistant Commissioner Adam O’Grady.
The TPB continues to work with key stakeholders, including the recognised professional associations and the education sector, in its review of the TPB’s requirements for courses approved by the Board and the primary qualifications for tax and BAS agents.
Debt and lodgment update
Assistant Commissioner Claire O’Neill, Director Steven Barbara and Director Hayden Jones provided an update on the debt and lodgment program of work.
The ATO is proactively engaging with clients to provide support to get back on track, and to stay on track. Clients are encouraged to lodge even if they cannot pay at time of lodgment. It is important to meet lodgment requirements and the ATO can assist with payment options tailored to the client’s circumstances.
The ATO will promote awareness on payment plans following updates made to functionality in December 2020. Payment plans can now be set up and updated without the need to contact the ATO. The ATO is using data and analytics to offer payment plans that are better tailored to a client’s circumstances. Clients can establish a payment plan for up to $100,000 provided the client has not defaulted on a payment plan for the relevant account in the last two years. More information is available at Paying your tax bill just got easier.
The ATO has taken a more personalised approach by providing the availability to customise the payment plan to the client’s needs, such as varying the initial upfront payment amount followed by manageable instalment amounts. If clients are unable to arrange a suitable payment plan online, they can contact the ATO. If a client or tax agent varies a payment arrangement this will not default the arrangement.
There is now consistency between ATO online and phone channels. ATO staff now have visibility of the payment plan offered to clients via Online Services for Agents.
Members mentioned there is an issue where some clients do not understand what will cause a payment arrangement to default. Education on this issue would be helpful.
Members commended the ATO on making the upfront payment of a payment arrangement flexible and adjustable.
Practice security and cybersecurity
Senior Director Mitchell White provided an update on cyber security, practice security and measures the ATO takes to protect against and detect cyber security threats.
Identity theft poses a significant risk to the integrity of the tax and superannuation system. With increasing reliance on technology and remote working arrangements, the ATO are seeing increasingly widespread and sophisticated attempts to use stolen identities to gain benefits from the tax and superannuation system. Tax practitioners can help by adopting strong client verification practices, which protects them, their clients and the tax and superannuation system.
It is highly recommended to always apply security updates to systems as soon as available to assist with cyber hygiene. Agents should be aware that email is not a secure form of correspondence, especially if emailing a tax file number or proof of identity documents. Phishing campaigns are sophisticated and include extensive research being conducted on a target to gain information. Spear phishing campaigns involve trawling social media accounts to gain information that can then be ‘on-sold’ for criminal activity.
Agents are encouraged to review information the ATO provides on online security and tips for practices.
Members requested educational material to share with clients and tax profession association membership.
Member advised of a helpful Government Cyber Security assessment toolExternal Link available to assist agents.
Assistant Commissioner Sylvia Gallagher and Director Ken Kua provided an update on the lodgment program review.
The ATO has established the Lodgment Program Review working group. Nominations have been requested for this group and will include members of the profession, tax and BAS agents, along with professional association representatives. The group will review lodgment/deferral patterns and behaviours to establish if there are issues with the current lodgment program assisting practitioners to meet their lodgment requirements.
The ATO will consult with the profession to gain their perspective and input on the current program regarding any irritants and gaps. A wholistic approach will be taken to the co-design of possible solutions and recommendations. These will be guided by research, consultation and ATO business requirements, including consideration of the appropriateness of the current lodgment program. Various strategies will be considered to support or replace components of the current program and its associated framework, identify opportunities for differentiated strategies based on agent behaviour and recommend appropriate treatments which link to the agent engagement strategy.
Members commented that an increase in workload has resulted in a larger volume of work needing to be completed within the same timeframe. Many agents do not put enough planning into capacity and growth.
Supporting the tax profession
The focus this year for the Supporting the Tax Profession working group is to develop a high-level crisis response framework which will:
- incorporate a short-term rapid response and long-term approach in the event of a crisis
- outline the communication approach to support these responses.
The aim is to have a sufficiently detailed framework developed by 30 June 2021.
At the Supporting the Tax Profession working group meeting held on 1 March 2021, each project group confirmed the overall project deliverables they would be working towards achieving and the timeframes involved.
The groups will reconvene as necessary and will work closely with the ATO’s Business Continuity Management area.
Information and guidance group
An incident and response communication plan that outlines the communications that will be delivered under the framework. That is, the group will produce a standard framework for communications that is applied and then adjusted according to the input of response group members.
Information and guidance group member Cate Kemp provided an update on the groups progress. The group recommends better communication involving:
- updating the ATO website with more technical information
- providing links to processes, law and case history within ATO web pages.
Flexible and adaptable processes group
Rapid response framework that can be applied following the occurrence of an adverse or crisis event. This framework will identify a group of stakeholders that will form part of a rapid response group when an event occurs.
Flexible and adaptable processes group member Keith Clissold provided an update:
- The group identified -having the right people at the right time taking the appropriate and necessary action required at the time.
- Always holding a mental health focus and approach and ensuring there is a promotion of mental health assistance available.
Understanding long term impacts
Longer-term framework that can be used by the tax profession to provide support to the community and profession following times of crisis.
All project groups will also ensure a mental health lens continues to be placed over issues raised and is reflected in the project deliverables being developed by each of the groups now that members of the changing roles and mental health support project group have been absorbed into the remaining three groups.
Understanding long term impacts group member Matthew Addison provided an update. The group has considered and discussed what is:
- the impact when a crisis event occurs
- the long-term impact of an event?
BAS Agent Association Group charter and membership refresh
Assistant Commissioner Sylvia Gallagher provided an updated on the BAS Agent Association Group (BASAAG) charter and membership refresh process.
Members were asked to review the role of the co-chair as outlined in the BASAAG charter and to recommend a nomination for the external co-chair position.
Members were also asked to review and provide endorsement of the final draft BASAAG charter. Any comments can be sent through via email.
The current BASAAG membership will be refreshed over a period of time. Members are asked to consider:
- The demographics of the current BASAAG membership and what attributes, expertise or experience may not currently be represented.
- Potential nominations of contacts from the BAS agent community that they feel would contribute to the group, have community reach and are prepared to make a commitment to the group.
Members were reminded of their role to raise issues on behalf of the whole profession, and the importance of maintaining confidentiality and meeting their own tax obligations.
Activity statement/PAYG Instalment notice
Assistant Commissioner Gail Hopley and Director Phillip Ide provided an update on Activity statement/PAYG Instalment notices.
The ATO has benefited from time spent consulting with members to optimise the move towards a digital platform. In December 2020 the ATO ceased issuing paper PAYG and GST instalment notices (forms R, S & T) to clients who had a digital outbound preference.
Communications were issued to self-preparers via a flyer with the September quarter instalment notice advising them that this was the last proper instalment notice they would receive. These clients also received a follow up email in December, reminding them of the change.
Tax and BAS agents were notified through web content and newsletters throughout the September – December period.
As a result of the feedback, the ATO reverted 270,000 clients back to a paper preference prior to generating the March quarter instalment notice. The selected clients for reverting to paper were all clients set to receive a form R, S or T where the client had the same postal address as their agent. This is an interim measure at present.
A streamlined process to lodge a bulk request through practice mail has been established for agents requesting that the interim measure be applied to further clients.
A co-design group has been established with both Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group and Tax Profession Digital Implementation Group members to consult on an interim solution and co-design on a longer-term solution to enable agents to manage processes for clients who receive instalment notices digitally. There are two solutions being explored which include a more detailed outstanding lodgment report as well as a digital instalment notice that would be visible on client correspondence history.
As these solutions are developed, the ATO will consult with BASAAG members to ensure that any changes meet business requirements prior to the ATO removing the interim solution.
Members advised that feedback from the profession is that they are happy that the ATO listened and reverted to paper until a longer-term solution is found.
Members would like a more detailed report to show if the Instalment activity statement has been issued to a tax agent or directly to a client.Summary of key topics discussed at the BAS Agent Association Group meeting 28 April 2021.