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BAS Agent Association Group key messages 28 October 2020

Summary of key topics discussed at the BAS Agent Association Group meeting 28 October 2020.

Last updated 17 January 2021

Welcome and introduction

Chair, Assistant Commissioner Sylvia Gallagher welcomed members and reminded attendees of confidentiality and advised the ATO will inform members of what information can be shared externally.

Action items

Action item 11082020-01, to establish a co-design group to review the Online Services for Agents (OSfA) client authority and identify potential improvements will be carried over to 2021. At this time further analysis is being undertaken to identify patterns of behaviour and behavioural drivers to aid in the design process of a protection from the inadvertent removal of BAS agents from OSfA. The next steps will be to either pursue with the co-design approach or alternatively design some alternative treatments to present to the BAS Agent Association Group (BASAAG) for consideration.

An update will be provided to BASAAG members early in 2021.

All other action items have been closed.

Supporting the tax profession

Director Jackie Hayward provided an overview on the progress on the tax practitioner support project. Four groups were formed with members from the Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group (TPSG) and BASAAG to focus on how to help support the profession through natural disasters and a pandemic such as COVID-19. The end goal is to achieve both a short term and long-term framework.

The four key focus areas are:

  • information and guidance project
  • flexible and adaptable processes
  • changing roles and mental health support
  • understanding longer term impacts.

Information and guidance project group

Communications Director Michael Job provided an update on the Information and guidance project group to members. The initial goal of the group was to understand the communication and support needs of the profession.

The group recognises the:

  • ATO website plays an important role in providing the delivery of information in an efficient and timely manner.
  • Challenges for users to balance plain language with technical information.
  • Importance of improving website user experience.
  • Need to ensure clarity is provided by including links to technical and legislative references.
  • Continued use of existing communication channels including professional associations and webinars to provide information.
  • Need to gain a greater understanding of channel preferences and where people want to see information.
  • Ability to quickly change preferences in systems so agents can respond quickly in the event of a crisis or disaster.
  • Need for consistency across government to allow for certainty on what information can be relied on.

Flexible and Adaptable Processes group

Keith Clissold provided an update on the project group to members.

The focus of the group is to be able to swiftly prepare an action plan in a crisis. This includes:

  • Ensuring transparency of information is shared in a crisis.
  • Tax practitioners have confidence in the information provided by the ATO and know they can rely on it in times of change.
  • Open and timely communication, including communication that can be tailored to the client or via preferencing that is based on different business models used by Tax or BAS agents.
  • A consistent approach is applied when implementing policy, in the approach taken and providing guidance and advice.
  • What support the ATO can provide agents / tax professional associations.
  • What support the ATO can provide to agents or clients that are not coping or overwhelmed during a turbulent time.
  • Develop a defined action plan for how we will communicate and work together in the event of a crisis.

Changing roles and mental health support group

Darren McMahon provided an update of the group to members.

Discussions in this group focused on:

  • What support links and channels the ATO can provide to available resources to assist in times of crisis.
  • Actions that would reduce stress for tax practitioners and ATO staff.
  • Providing ATO staff with tools to assist tax practitioners who ask for help and support.
  • Ensure access to flexible processes are available if needed, particularly in times of crisis (that is, in terms of payment processes and plans, lodgment dates etc).
  • Agents can access the information and systems they need at the time they need it, providing them with clarity around extensions and concessions being offered.
  • What will happen when the stimulus measures cease? How is the tax profession preparing for the flow on effects in terms of debt recovery, business viability, triage and the broader systemic changes that are expected to occur? How can agents engage more proactively when these changes occur?
  • A coordinated approach between the ATO, Tax Professional Associations and the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) is required in times of change.
  • Advocate for professional bodies including the TPB, to support agents in developing soft skills in providing mental health support.

Understanding longer term impacts

Matthew Addison provided an update to members on the key areas the group is focussing on:

  • Agents and ATO have a common understanding and a relationship that is flexible and adaptable in times of crisis.
  • Transparency around ATO processes.
  • Development of an action plan to be implemented in an event of a crisis.
  • Agents have better visibility of trends and impacts from COVID-19 through use of data.
  • Consider any possible long-term impact of compliance action taken or suspended through a crisis period.

TPB update

TPB Secretary/Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Neill provided an update.

Modernising business registers may have some impact on the tax profession for BAS agents as tax practitioners will begin to receive requests for assistance to register for a director identification number (director ID). Currently some BAS and tax agents are also company registration agents who provide an online service to liaise with Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). To be a registration agent one needs to have an Australian business number and cannot be bankrupt. The process is being considered by the modernising business registers project team and BASAAG members will be involved in future consultation.

The TPB has approximately 500 compliance cases on hand with a compliance focus on practitioners associated with misuse of the stimulus measures.

The 2019–20 Annual report was tabled in Parliament on 16 October 2020. A copy of the report is available on the TPB website.

Professional associations were thanked for their efforts in working with the TPB in 2020.

Tailoring BAS agent communications

Communications Director Michael Job discussed a program of work to improve and tailor communications for the BAS agent population.

With the expansion of the services BAS agents can offer to their clients the ATO recognises the change in BAS agent services and is supporting BAS agents in the manner communications are delivered.

In addition to the changing nature of their professional services, research shows a considerable difference in the demographics of BAS agents compared to tax agents. These demographics are being taken into consideration by the ATO from a communications perspective to determine which communications channels will be most effective. The ATO will aim to provide communications that are tailored to the needs of BAS agents.

The ATO will undertake further research and analysis on the BAS agent population to keep this moving in the right direction. BASAAG members will play an important part in this and the ATO value members ongoing support and feedback.

By developing a new communications approach for BAS agents, the ATO can build stronger relationships with the community, help BAS agents serve their clients better, and help build trust and confidence in our tax system.

ATO outbound communications

Assistant Commissioner Sarah Vawser and Director Mark Ayers provided an update on ATO outbound communication preferencing in OSfA. The ATO is looking for opportunities to continually improve the ATO outbound communication experience.

Communication preferences and history

Public release of communication preferences into OSfA occurred in March 2020. There has been a significant update of the channel with over 450,000 clients preferenced and over 300,000 items of correspondence issued via the agent digital channel. Feedback has been positive that the feature is intuitive and easy to use. This feature has helped agents to transition to a digital solution in the current COVID-19 environment. To set up a communication preference a practitioner must be appointed by the client as their registered agent and have the clients written authority to set communication preferences.

The ATO is working together with digital service providers to deliver features available in OSfA through practice management software. The ATO is currently looking to release some functionality in a test environment later this year and in early 2021 release more functionality to set and manage communication preferences and to view client’s history like options available in OSfA.

SMS and Email

Engagement is underway with the ATO legal and cyber security teams to determine what information/identifiers can be included in ATO emails and SMS messages that will easily identify the client without breaching the client’s privacy. Email and SMS are not secure channels and therefore TFNs cannot be used in these communications.

These guidelines are currently being reviewed and will look at potentially expanding the circumstances under which some identifiers may be used in email and SMS messages without breaching a client’s privacy or increasing the risk of identity theft and scams.

BASAAG membership refresh and charter

Assistant Commissioner Sylvia Gallagher advised that all consultation groups across the ATO are to be refreshed and aligned corporately with each other.

There is a standard consultation group charter which the ATO would like to receive members feedback on. The ATO would like to ensure the groups are receiving the content they need and that any information provided is coordinated and fit for purpose. The TPSG and BASAAG will have their agendas more aligned during 2021 but tailored for the audience. Consideration is being given to how to work more closely with tax professional associations.

A proposal will be provided to each group for consultation, co design and feedback comments.

Feedback on the standardised Charter can be provided to

Debt and lodgment recommencing engagement strategy

Assistant Commissioner Claire O’Neill provided an update on the ATO’s recommencing engagement strategy with taxpayers with outstanding payment and or lodgment obligations.

The ATO has recommenced engagement with redesigned communications focusing on factual awareness rather than consequences for clients. Recent outbound engagement focuses on offering help and assistance to taxpayers facing difficulty meeting their obligations.

As part of this work, the ATO also reviewed and tailored appropriate messages for outbound communications. The message needs to be communicated to clients that lodgments should continue to be made even if payment cannot be made. Clients experiencing difficulties with either lodgments or payments are encouraged to contact the ATO to discuss their circumstances.

Modernising Business Registers

Assistant Commissioners Martin Jacobs and Eleanor Beer provided an update on the Modernising Business Registers program of work including introduction of the director ID.

A new whole-of-government business register will be formed by consolidating the ASIC registers and the Australian Business Register at the ATO; providing a digital user interface for the full business registry lifecycle. The program of work will also introduce a director ID number for company directors. This will be the first service delivered under the program of work.

A director ID is a unique number that identifies a person as a director of a Company both Public and Pty Ltd, Registered Australian body (an incorporated association that trades outside the state or territory in which it is incorporated), Registered foreign company.

An individual requires a director ID if they are a director or an alternate director who is acting in that role. Company secretaries, shadow directors and de facto directors will not need a director ID. A director keeps their director ID even if they stop being a director, change their name or move interstate.

The government is yet to set the start date for director ID and the transition period for existing directors to apply for their director ID.

People will need to apply for their own director ID; an agent cannot apply on behalf of the director. The reason for this is that individuals need to prove their identity to get a director ID.

The ATO recognises that most directors will have a relationship with a tax, BAS or ASIC agent. A key part of our onboarding strategy is to enlist the support of agents to help us educate directors about the need to apply. It will be important for the ATO to provide agents with the information they need to enable them to engage with their clients. This information will need to be provided before the ATO starts any broader education of the community about director ID.

Other business and meeting close

A session will be held early in 2021 to further discuss the principles for the membership refresh. Any recommendations or comments from members can be sent to in the meantime.

BASAAG 2021 meeting dates to be advised.

The Chair thanked members for their time and contribution. The meeting has been valuable and ATO colleagues have taken away a broader understanding of the BAS agent experience.