Practice Statement Law Administration
This document has changed over time. View its history.
|TABLE OF CONTENTS||Paragraph|
|1. When may section 167 of the ITAA 1936 be used?|
|2. Making default assessments - general principles|
|3. Making a valid default assessment|
|4. Gathering the information to make the default assessment|
|5. Determining reasonable grounds on which to make the assessment|
|6. Documenting your decision|
|7. Interaction with prosecution|
|8. Applying penalties|
|9. Notifying the taxpayer|
|10. Debt collection issues|
|11. Review and objection rights|
|13. More Information|
|This practice statement is an internal ATO document, and is an instruction to ATO staff.
Taxpayers can rely on this practice statement to provide them with protection from interest and penalties in the following way. If a statement turns out to be incorrect and taxpayers underpay their tax as a result, they will not have to pay a penalty. Nor will they have to pay interest on the underpayment provided they reasonably relied on this practice statement in good faith. However, even if they don't have to pay a penalty or interest, taxpayers will have to pay the correct amount of tax provided the time limits under the law allow it.
This Law Administration Practice Statement provides guidelines on making default assessments using the powers under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (ITAA 1936).
1. When may section 167 of the ITAA 1936 be used?
Section 167 of the ITAA 1936 allows the Commissioner to make an assessment of the amount on which, in the Commissioner's judgment, income tax ought to be levied. That amount becomes the person's taxable income for the purpose of section 166.
It can be used where:
- a person defaults in lodging a return
- we are not satisfied with the return a person has lodged
- we have reason to believe a person who has not lodged a return has derived taxable income.
Such an assessment is called a 'default assessment'.
Note: The principles relating to section 167 mentioned in this Practice statement should also be applied to similar provisions, such as section 73 of the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986, where appropriate.
Refer also to Law Administration Practice Statement PS LA 2007/10 Making default assessments: section 36 of the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992.
You should also refer to the relevant internal procedure on making default assessments.
2. Making default assessments - general principles
- you are authorised to do so
- your decision is fair and made in good faith
- your decision has been made independently, and not at the direction of a third party, such as another government agency (see also section 6 of this Practice statement)
- the assessment is valid (see section 3 of this Practice statement)
- your decision is based on reasonable grounds, and is defensible (see section 5 of this Practice statement)
- there is sufficient information to support your decision
- you have considered all the relevant individual circumstances in accordance with the law
- you have considered the commitments made in the Taxpayers' Charter and the principles of the compliance model.
3. Making a valid default assessment
- the assessment must be the result of an 'act or operation of the Commissioner'
- the assessment must lead to an ascertainment, on consideration of all relevant circumstances, of the taxpayer's taxable income and their tax payable
- the assessment must be definitive in character, and not tentative or provisional
- the assessment notice must be served on the taxpayer.
Relevant legal cases with respect to default assessment are provided in the 'More Information' section of this Practice statement.
The combined effect of section 175 and item 2 of subsection 350-10(1) of Schedule 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (TAA) (formerly subsection 177(1)) means that provided we have made a genuine attempt to ascertain the taxpayer's taxable income, the taxpayer cannot challenge the assessment except under a Part IVC of the TAA objection.
Errors in calculating a taxpayer's taxable income during the process of making the default assessment do not mean that the assessment is invalid. The Commissioner is not limited to using a particular methodology to calculate an amount on which to tax the taxpayer. The assessment is valid provided that the Commissioner has undertaken a logical process to arrive at that amount.
Circumstances that do not amount to a genuine attempt to assess include simply plucking a figure from the air, or where the assessment is made upon no intelligible basis. A genuine attempt will arrive at a definitive taxable income for the taxpayer. The fact that an assessment may be amended later (for example, on the provision of further information) or that alternative assessments are issued does not mean that it is not definitive.
An assessment will be invalid if it is motivated by an improper or collateral purpose (for example, if it is issued to cause a taxpayer to talk to us, or is based on facts that are known to be untrue).
4. Gathering the information to make the default assessment
The taxpayer is the best starting point for information because they should possess information about their own taxation affairs.
Note: Different procedures may be adopted if the audit is being undertaken without informing the taxpayer, for example due to safety concerns or the audit is being conducted covertly.
Taxpayers who have not kept records cannot use this as the basis of an objection. The Courts have said:
In the absence of some record in the mind or in the books of the taxpayer, it would often be quite impossible to make a correct assessment. The assessment would necessarily be a guess to some extent, and almost certainly inaccurate in fact. There is every reason to assume that the legislature did not intend to confer upon a potential taxpayer the valuable privilege of disqualifying himself in that capacity by the simple and relatively unskilled method of losing either his memory or his books.
In cases where the taxpayer's records have been lost or destroyed, you should note the policy in Law Administration Practice Statement PS LA 2011/25 Reconstructing records and making reasonable estimates for taxpayers affected by disaster.
Where complete information may not be available from the taxpayer, you can seek to obtain information from third parties, including but not limited to:
- Australian government agencies, such as other Commonwealth agencies, local Council authorities, Utilities providers, transport departments
- employers, commercial entities, financial institutions
- foreign governments (subject to applicable tax treaties)
- information provided to us by the public.
Formal access powers
The Commissioner's formal access powers may be used in appropriate circumstances to obtain information from the taxpayer or third parties. You should follow the guidelines in Our approach to information gathering when seeking to use these powers.
5. Determining reasonable grounds on which to make the assessment
When making a default assessment, you should generally make allowance for usually incurred deductions. However, due to the nature of a default assessment it is not necessary to calculate assessable income and then applicable deductions; depending on the circumstances it may be entirely appropriate for you to make a direct judgment of taxable income.
Reasonable grounds on which a default assessment may be made include:
- information provided by third parties
- information obtained from data matching
- the application of industry benchmarks
- relevant economic statistics - for example Australian Bureau of Statistics cost-of-living figures
- extrapolation from previous year returns.
Indirect audit methodologies, including 'T' accounts and asset betterment calculations, have been upheld by the courts as proper bases on which an assessment may be raised.
6. Documenting your decision
You must also record all dealings with third parties, including other government agencies. Keeping accurate contemporary records should reflect the fact that the assessment is made solely for income tax law purposes. Failure to do so may give rise to the risk of an allegation that the assessment was made for an improper purpose.
7. Interaction with prosecution
Non-lodgment of income tax returns is pursued through the reminder correspondence, final notice and prosecution actions.
However, it may be appropriate to issue default assessments instead of enforcing lodgment in the following circumstances:
- There is a risk that a taxpayer would remove themselves or their assets from Australia (that is, in conjunction with issuing a departure prohibition order or seeking a freezing order/Mareva injunction).
- There is a risk that money available to satisfy the tax debt would become irrecoverable unless garnishee action was taken.
- It appears that a taxpayer will pay fines resulting from prosecution action, but continues not to lodge outstanding returns.
- There may be significant administration advantages in making default assessments as non-lodgment is rife in a particular industry or occupation, or as a result of a scheme or arrangement, there may be significant administrative advantages in making default assessments.
- An independent decision based on whole-of-government initiatives indicates issuing a default assessment is more appropriate.
Once a default assessment has been made we would not normally continue with prosecution action. However a default assessment can be made after prosecution for non-lodgment if the taxpayer has subsequently failed to comply with the court order to lodge.
Note: You should consult the ATO officer in charge of the prosecution before raising a default assessment.
8. Applying penalties
You need to consider the application of administrative penalties when making a default assessment. Refer to Divisions 284 and 286 of Schedule 1 to the TAA and Law Administration Practice Statement PS LA 2014/4 Administration of the penalty imposed under subsection 284-75(3) of Schedule 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953.
9. Notifying the taxpayer
In accordance with usual audit practices you should advise the taxpayer that you intend to raise a default assessment and provide them with the opportunity to comment on that proposed default assessment.
Note: Even if you make adjustments based on any information a taxpayer provides it is still a default assessment.
It may not always be appropriate to give a taxpayer advance notice of your intention to issue a default assessment. Such instances include where:
- the taxpayer poses a flight risk
- there is a risk of the dissipation of assets, such as the transfer or movement of liquid assets/funds, especially out of Australia
- the default assessment is used in conjunction with another tax remedy, such as a departure prohibition order, or where there is a personal safety risk to an ATO officer, for example in audits of taxpayers linked to organised crime.
10. Debt collection issues
You should contact the Debt business line to discuss collection and any associated risks as early as possible before issuing a default assessment. Debt needs information on any identified assets in order to maximise the likelihood of collection and recovery.
11. Review and objection rights
Example 1 - unexplained deposits
A taxpayer who has not lodged any income tax returns has used funds sourced from a series of significant cash bank deposits over several years to pay for living expenses for himself and his family. The taxpayer has provided several unsatisfactory explanations for these deposits. A default assessment under section 167 is made for the amounts of unexplained deposits in each year as taxable income. The assessment does not include any allowable deductions based on the insufficient evidence concerning the source of the funds.
Example 2 - asset betterment / 'T' account
A taxpayer has lodged returns for a number of years disclosing consistent losses from business activities. An audit of the taxpayer's affairs reveals a significant increase in the value of the taxpayer's assets and evidence of a lavish lifestyle inconsistent with the reported ongoing losses. The taxpayer is uncooperative. An indirect financial analysis is conducted ('T' account) which quantifies the shortfall of non-disclosed business income on which to raise a default assessment.
Example 3 - extrapolation from prior year returns and third party information
A taxpayer failed to lodge returns for several years. The last two lodged returns contain stable income details for the taxpayer's business activity. Following a lack of response, the ATO uses third party information to confirm the taxpayer is still conducting the same business. Section 167 default assessments, based on an extrapolation of the previous tax returns (taking into account assessable income and allowable deductions) and increased by the ABS inflation rate for the relevant periods, are raised. The ATO officer also advises the Debt business line of the third parties with whom the taxpayer is apparently trading in order to aid debt collection activity.
Example 4 - use of external economic statistics
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) data shows large sums of money were sent offshore. The taxpayer did not offer a credible explanation for the transactions nor provided any details of returns on these funds. After considering the evidence, the taxpayer is assessed on the unexplained funds that were transferred offshore as taxable income. Additionally, ABS data is used on net return on foreign investments to calculate the taxpayer's taxable (not assessable) income and section 167 default assessments are raised.
Example 5 - lost records for individual
A self-employed individual taxpayer's taxation records were destroyed by a fire at the business premises. The taxpayer was unable to easily reconstruct them as they largely related to cash receipts and payments. The taxpayer had a good compliance history and a reasonably stable taxable income over the prior five years. As a result the ATO officer responsible for the taxpayer's lodgment enforcement case decided to issue a section 167 default assessment for the relevant financial year. The ATO officer contacted the taxpayer and discussed an appropriate basis for calculating the taxpayer's taxable income, including the taxpayer's estimates of their assessable income and allowable deductions. The ATO officer raised a default assessment on the basis agreed with the taxpayer (which was the average of the last three years' taxable income).
13. More information
- For judicial interpretation on valid assessments generally and default assessments under section 167, see:
- Bailey v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) 136 CLR 214;  HCA 11; (1977) 7 ATR 251; 77 ATC 4096
- Batagol v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1963) 109 CLR 243;  HCA 51;  ALR 480
- FJ Bloemen Pty Ltd and Simons v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1981) 147 CLR 360;  HCA 27; 81 ATC 4280; (1981) 11 ATR 914
- R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (WA); Ex parte Briggs [No 2] 14 FCR 249; 87 ATC 4278; 18 ATR 570
- Case B18 (1951) 2 TBRD 88
- Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Dalco 168 CLR 614;  HCA 3; 20 ATR 1370; 90 ATC 4088
- Darrell Lea Chocolate Shops Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1996) 72 FCR 175; 34 ATR 491; 97 ATC 4040
- Eldridge v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) 21 ATR 897; 90 ATC 4907
- Favaro v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) 34 ATR 1; 96 ATC 4975
- Federal Commissioner of Taxation v S Hoffnung & Company Limited (1928) 42 CLR 39; (1928) 1 ATD 310
- Gamini Bus Co Ltd v Commissioner of Income Tax, Colombo (1952) AC 571; (1952) TR 44
- Gashi v Federal Commissioner of Taxation 209 FCR 301;  FCAFC 30; 91 ATR 1; 2013 ATC 20-377
- George v Commissioner of Taxation (1952) 86 CLR 183;  HCA 21; (1952) 10 ATD 65
- R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (Cth), Ex parte Hooper (1926) 37 CLR 368;  HCA 3
- Madden v Madden (1996) 65 FCR 354; 96 ATC 4268; (1996) 32 ATR 223
- Martin v Federal Commissioner of Taxation  FCA 621; 93 ATC 5200, (1993) 27 ATR 282
- McAndrew v Commissioner of Taxation (1956) 98 CLR 263;  HCA 62
- McCleary v Commissioner of Taxation 97 ATC 4266; (1997) 35 ATR 318
- Rigoli v Commissioner of Taxation  FCAFC 29; 2014 ATC 20-446; (2014) 96 ATR 19
- Stone v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1918) 25 CLR 389;  HCA 67
- Trautwein v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1936) 56 CLR 63;  HCA 77; (1936) 10 ALJ 247
- For internal procedures on making default assessments, refer to (internal links only):
- For guidelines on our formal access powers refer to:
- Relevant policies on administrative penalties, refer to:
- PS LA 2012/4 Administration of the false or misleading statements penalty - where there is no shortfall amount
- PS LA 2012/5 Administration of the false or misleading statements penalty - where there is no shortfall amount
- PS LA 2014/4 Administration of the penalty imposed under subsection 284 75(3) of Schedule 1 to the Taxation Administration Act 1953
- PS LA 2011/19 Administration of the penalty for failure to lodge
- TR 94/3 Income tax: tax shortfall penalties: calculation of a tax shortfall and allocation of additional tax
- TR 94/7 Income tax: tax shortfall penalties: guidelines for the exercise of the Commissioner's discretion to remit penalty otherwise attracted
|Date of amendment||Part||Comment|
|14 May 2020||Various||Updated references.|
|21 February 2019||All||Include reference to internal procedures on making default assessment and updated for currency of format and style.|
|13 July 2017||All||Updated to new LAPS format and style.|
|3 April 2014||Contact officer||Updated|
|16 July 2013||Paragraph 87||Include reference to subsection 285 75(4).|
|Paragraphs 88 and 93||Include reference to subsection 285 75(4) and replace reference to PS LA 2006/2 with PS LA 2012/4 and PS LA 2012/5|
|27 June 2013||Generally||Updated to current corporate publication style.|
|7 May 2012||Contact officer||Details updated|
|17 January 2012||Paragraph 2||References to Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 and PS LA 2007/10 included.|
|Paragraph 46||Reference to PS LA 2011/25 included.|
|Paragraph 89, 91, 95||Updated and reference to PS LA 2011/19 included.|
|Paragraph 98||Updated and references to PS LA 2011/13 and PS LA 2011/18 included.|
|Legislative references||Updated to include Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992.|
|Related practice statements||Updated to include PS LA 2007/10, 2011/13, 2011/18, 2011/19, 2011/25.|
|15 November 2011||Contact officer||Details updated|
|4 July 2011||Contact details||Updated|
|9 November 2010||Contact officer & reference to Tax Office||Details updated & references to Tax Office changed to ATO|
|11 September 2008||Paragraphs 85, 89, 91, 95, 98 & Related practice statements||Reference to PS LA 2006/11 removed
Link to the policy added to 'Other references'
|6 August 2008||Contact officer||Details updated|
Date of Issue: 20 December 2007
Date of Effect: 20 December 2007
All legislative references in this practice statement are to the ITAA 1936 unless otherwise indicated.
Sections 167 and 168. Amendment of assessments remains subject to the time limits in section 170.
R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (Cth), Ex parte Hooper (1926) 37 CLR 368, 373.
R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (Cth), Ex parte Hooper (1926) 37 CLR 368.
Federal Commissioner of Taxation v S Hoffnung & Company Limited (1928) 42 CLR 39; (1928) 1 ATD 310; FJ Bloemen Pty Ltd and Simons v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1981) 147 CLR 360;  HCA 27; 81 ATC 4280; (1981) 11 ATR 914.
Batagol v Commissioner of Taxation (1963) 109 CLR 243, 252;  HCA 51, ;  ALR 480, 487.
Section 175 protects the validity of an assessment in the event of non-compliance with provisions of the Act. Section 350-10 of Schedule 1 to the TAA provides the production of a notice of assessment is conclusive evidence of making that assessment.
Section 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903.
Stone v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1918) 25 CLR 389;  HCA 67.
Latham CJ in Trautwein v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1936) 56 CLR 63, 87;  HCA 77, .
Refer to Favaro v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth) (1996) 34 ATR 1; 96 ATC 4975; Gamini Bus Co Ltd v Commissioner of Income Tax (Colombo)  AC 571; (1952) TR 44 and Case B18 (1951) 2 TBRD 88.
Refer to DL - Non-lodgment prosecution guideline..
Refer to Default assessments for overdue lodgments.
ITAA 1936 166
ITAA 1936 167
ITAA 1936 168
ITAA 1936 170
ITAA 1936 175
ITAA 1936 177
ITAA 1936 225
TAA 1953 Pt IVC
TAA 1953 Sch 1 260-5
TAA 1953 Sch 1 260-5(2)
TAA 1953 Sch 1 284-75(1)
TAA 1953 Sch 1 284-75(3)
TAA 1953 Sch 1 286-75(1)
FBTA 1986 73
SGAA 1992 36
Bailey v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
136 CLR 214
 HCA 11
(1977) 7 ATR 251
77 ATC 4096
Batagol v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1963) 109 CLR 243
 HCA 51
 ALR 480
(1951) 2 TBRD 88
Darrell Lea Chocolate Shops Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1996) 72 FCR 175
(1996) 34 ATR 491
97 ATC 4040
Eldridge v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1990) 21 ATR 897
90 ATC 4907
Favaro v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1996) 34 ATR 1
96 ATC 4975
Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Dalco
(1990) 168 CLR 614
 HCA 3
(1990) 20 ATR 1370
90 ATC 4088
FJ Bloemen Pty Ltd and Simons v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1981) 147 CLR 360
 HCA 27
81 ATC 4280
(1981) 11 ATR 914
Gamini Bus Co Ltd v Commissioner of Income Tax, Colombo
(1952) AC 571
(1952) TR 44
Gashi v Federal Commissioner of Taxation
(2013) 209 FCR 301
 FCAFC 30
2013 ATC 20-377
(2013) 91 ATR 1
Madden v Madden
(1996) 65 FCR 354
96 ATC 4268
(1996) 32 ATR 223
Martin v Federal Commissioner of Taxation
93 ATC 5200
(1993) 27 ATR 282
McAndrew v Federal Commissioner of Taxation
(1956) 98 CLR 263
 HCA 62
McCleary v Federal Commissioner of Taxation
97 ATC 4266
(1997) 35 ATR 318
R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (WA); Ex parte Briggs
(1987) 14 FCR 249
(1987) 18 ATR 570
87 ATC 4278
R v Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (Cth), Ex parte Hooper
(1926) 37 CLR 368
 HCA 3
Rigoli v Federal Commissioner of Taxation
 FCAFC 29
2014 ATC 20-446
(2014) 96 ATR 19
Stone v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1918) 25 CLR 389
 HCA 67
Trautwein v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (Cth)
(1936) 56 CLR 63
 HCA 77
(1936) 10 ALJ 247
|11 September 2008||Updated statement|
|9 November 2010||Updated statement|
|17 January 2012||Updated statement|
|16 July 2013||Updated statement|
|13 July 2017||Updated statement|
|21 February 2019||Updated statement|
|You are here||14 May 2020||Updated statement|
|This practice statement was originally published on 20 December 2007. Versions published from 11 September 2008 are available electronically - refer to the online version of the practice statement. Versions published prior to this date are not available electronically. If needed, these can be requested by emailing