5.1 The ATO's Lodgment Program is an important feature of the tax system. It assists registered tax practitioners to spread their workload by offering concessional due dates that allow the progressive lodgment of documents throughout the year.304 Similarly, it provides the ATO with an opportunity to manage work flow peaks and troughs.

5.2 As a condition of receiving concessional lodgment due dates, since 1 July 2012, the ATO has required tax practitioners to lodge returns electronically and to ensure that at least 85 per cent of their clients' current year returns were lodged on time (85% Lodgment Rule).305

Stakeholder concerns

5.3 The need for a differentiated ATO Lodgment Program was generally appreciated by stakeholders. However, many tax practitioners expressed a number of concerns with the new Lodgment Program framework.

5.4 Some tax practitioners expressed concerns that they would be adversely affected if they lose their lodgment concessions for failing to meet the requirements of the new Lodgment Program, namely, the 85% Lodgment Rule. Others believed this perception arose from the ATO not clearly communicating what action it would take when a tax practitioner failed to meet the rule.

5.5 Tax practitioners were also concerned with ATO email alerts being sent to them about their lodgment performance. The email alerts to some tax practitioners contained statements to the effect that they had 'failed' to meet the rule. There was also insufficient information in the emails to confirm the accuracy of the results. This was exasperated by some of these emails containing information about similar sized practices who had performed worse than the recipient of the email. This approach created confusion and fear amongst many tax practitioners and they began to form a view that the ATO was now stepping into the shoes of the TPB and acting as a 'quasi regulator' of tax practitioners.

5.6 Certain tax practitioners also believed the 85% Lodgment Rule was counterproductive to the aim of improving overall lodgments as it placed undue pressure on practitioners to lodge returns promptly potentially giving rise to a risk that there is a quality trade off. It also discouraged tax practitioners from assisting taxpayers whose current year returns were already late and those with outstanding returns for prior years. It should be noted that outstanding prior year returns frequently require considerably more time and effort to complete and lodge.

5.7 Tax practitioners believed that the 85% Lodgment Rule was a 'blunt instrument' that did not sufficiently take into account tax practitioner business models or their individual circumstances as it applied to all tax practitioners equally. A range of tax practitioners also felt that they were sometimes in a 'bind' as they had no authority or direct means of pressuring their clients to provide information and finalise these returns on-time. In addition to unresponsive clients, practitioners also mentioned that their performance was impacted by a lack of appropriate assistance or service support from the ATO such as the ATO Portals' unreliability (refer to Chapter 4 for more discussion on the ATO Portals).

Background

5.8 The proposal to develop a differentiated Lodgment Program was first tabled at a LWG meeting in November 2010, in response to a joint submission raised by professional associations' members, requesting that the ATO consider means of distinguishing between tax practitioners based on their Lodgment Program compliance history:

Tax agents that have demonstrated a high degree of compliance by way of timely lodgment of income tax returns currently receive little acknowledgement of their compliance history.

Conversely, tax agents that have a demonstrably poor compliance history suffer no specific consequences as a result.306

5.9 Between 2011 and 2012, the ATO, in consultation with members of the LWG, which includes tax professionals and representatives of tax professional bodies, began developing a new framework for a differentiated Lodgment Program.307

5.10 As a result, a framework was developed with the aim of increasing the number of electronic returns lodged on-time and supporting a level playing field between those practitioners that are managing their lodgment obligations well and those who do not.308

5.11 On 1 July 2012, the ATO commenced its transition to the new Lodgment Program (applicable to income tax returns and Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) returns) which targeted 23,745 registered tax agents and contained the 85% Lodgment Rule.309

5.12 The 85% Lodgment Rule recognised that there will be circumstances beyond an agent's control that might prevent them from lodging 100 per cent of clients' returns on time.310 During this review, the ATO expanded on this in a written response to the IGT stating that the 85% Lodgment Rule:

…allows a 15 per cent margin for client-driven issues, and tax agents continue to have access to lodgment deferrals where additional time is required to lodge due to unforeseen or exceptional circumstances.

This benchmark is considered 'reasonable' as it recognises that there will sometimes be circumstances beyond an agent's control that might prevent them from lodging 100 per cent of clients' returns on time.

However, it also sets an expectation that a registered agent, as a trusted advisor, has influence over the compliance behaviour of their clients, and takes into account the generous lodgment concessions provided to agents under the Lodgment Program.311

Calculation of tax practitioners' performance

5.13 According to the ATO's website, a tax practitioner's lodgment performance percentage is calculated by adding all the current year returns lodged by the due date312 and then dividing this figure by the total number of clients as reported in the Tax Agent Portal.313 Below is the ATO's illustration of this calculation.

Figure 4: Lodgment performance calculation

Figure 4: Lodgment performance calculation

Source: ATO website.

Communication of tax practitioners' performance

5.14 The ATO provides email 'performance summary' alerts to tax practitioners, informing them of their lodgment performance progressively during the income year. These alerts show:

  • the lodgment program period on which the performance is based;
  • the number of returns due in the period;
  • the number of returns lodged on-time; and
  • the lodgment performance percentage.

5.15 The alerts also advise tax practitioners of what can be done to improve their performance. For example, the ATO may instruct tax practitioners to:

  • Ensure your clients are aware of their obligation to lodge and assist them in lodging their overdue documents.
  • Keep your client list up to date by removing clients who no longer use your services; this may improve your on-time performance rate.
  • Consider the benefits of notifying us if any of your clients don't need to lodge for the current or future years.314

ATO response to a failure to meet the 85% Lodgment Rule

5.16 The ATO, in a regional working group, advised that tax practitioners would be given a year (from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013) before the new Lodgment Program framework applied. In that year, the ATO indicated that it would not apply any treatments to tax practitioners but instead advised that it was:

  • raising awareness of the new Lodgment Program framework;
  • providing assistance and guidance to tax practitioners;
  • working with those practitioners who were not lodging electronically and/or who were not meeting the proposed on time lodgment benchmark; and
  • assisting them with bulk 'clean-up' of client lists.315

5.17 The ATO provided a service, between September-December 2012 and February-April 2013316, to assist tax practitioners in a bulk 'clean-up' of their client lists. The bulk clean-up was necessary because tax practitioners' performance percentages took into account all of their clients on the ATO Portals. The ATO provided assistance with this bulk clean-up because the system only allowed practitioners to remove clients
one-by-one which would have been a very time consuming task.

5.18 As a result of the above service, over 8,100 tax agent requests were actioned and almost 630,000 clients removed from client lists. Over 50 per cent of these were then identified as 'Further Return Not Necessary' or 'Return Not Necessary' taxpayers. Tax practitioners were highly supportive of the ATO service in this regard with
100 per cent of the agents surveyed indicating that they would use the service if it was offered again.317

5.19 Some stakeholders speculated that the removal of these clients from their list meant disconnecting the client from the tax system. However, the ATO has advised that these 630,000 removed clients 'have been segmented and subject to multiple engagement or lodgment compliance strategies.'318

5.20 The transitional year was also used to measure and monitor tax practitioner performance against the proposed 85 per cent benchmark to enable further analysis of the varying levels of compliance and also whether the proposed benchmark was workable.319

5.21 After the transitional year, the ATO had stated that those practitioners who did not lodge 85 per cent or more would not immediately lose access to the Lodgment Program. During this review, the following diagram was published on the ATO's website, showing the progressively increasing stringent treatment strategies the ATO would apply.

Figure 5: ATO treatment strategies

Figure 5: ATO treatment strategies

Source: ATO website.

5.22 Some tax practitioners claimed that the approach outlined in Figure 5 had not been taken by the ATO and provided the IGT with examples of ATO communications to the contrary.

5.23 In one example, the ATO sent a performance alert to a tax practitioner who had lodged 84 per cent of relevant returns on time. Notwithstanding that the same alert contained average performance for similar practices was only 81.3 per cent, the ATO's message to the practitioner was:

The majority of registered agents lodge 85 per cent or more of their client's returns on-time. You have failed to meet the performance benchmark for the 2013–14 lodgment program year.320

5.24 In another example, an ATO performance alert stated that the tax practitioner had lodged 71 per cent of relevant returns on time and implied that this performance could result in a referral to the TPB:

If your client is granted safe harbour because they had provided you with all their information to enable on-time lodgment, we may refer the matter to the Tax Practitioner's Board (TPB) to consider whether there has been a breach of the 'Code of Professional Conduct' under the Tax Agent Services Act 2009.321

5.25 These communications were perceived by tax practitioners as the ATO threatening referral to the TPB to investigate whether the practitioner had breached the 'Code of Professional Conduct' under the TAS Act 2009. The ATO has now removed references to referrals to the TPB in their more recent performance alerts.

5.26 As a result of tax practitioner dissatisfaction with the implementation of the 85% Lodgment Rule, during this review, the ATO has amended its communication to tax practitioners, including its email alerts, to state that the 'treatments' would only apply when a tax practitioner's performance fell below 65 per cent or more. The ATO has also publicly acknowledged its error in its earlier communications, examples of which are mentioned above. The ATO has asserted that such earlier actions were inconsistent with its original intentions that the on-time lodgment performance benchmark was not a 'pass or fail concept', but rather a tool to encourage continual improvement across the profession.322

5.27 The following table sets out the ATO's updated treatments for various levels of lodgment:

Table 15: Current ATO treatment strategies
Lodgment performance range Treatment
85% or more No treatment
You are meeting the benchmark and will receive a certificate to confirm.
75-84% No treatment
You are close to achieving the benchmark and can take some steps to improve your performance in the future.
65-74% No treatment
You need to take some steps to improve your performance for next year, or we may contact you in the future.
41-64% Treatment
We will contact you to discuss the circumstances that are affecting you and steps you can take to improve. We will continue to monitor your progress.
Below 40% Treatment
We will contact you to discuss your low performance. If you have been below 40% for some time you may be entered into a guided lodgment program.
The guided lodgment program comprises of a series of progressive lodgment milestones throughout the year. It may result in us writing directly to your clients to seek lodgment.

Source: ATO website.

5.28 As the table above indicates, where tax practitioners' performance is below 65 per cent, the ATO will make contact to discuss their circumstances and the steps to improve performance.323

5.29 The ATO has announced that only tax practitioners who continually have poor lodgment performance, with a poor compliance history may be at risk of losing access to concessional due dates under the Lodgment Program.324 The ATO's website continues to have specific reference to tax practitioners potentially losing access to the Lodgment Program.325

5.30 Furthermore, before applying a treatment, the ATO:

…will contact you to discuss individual circumstances that may be affecting your lodgment performance. We will take into account your individual performance and compliance history.326

5.31 The circumstances that may affect individual performance include:

  • illness and other extenuating factors
  • starting up a new business, for example newly registered agents
  • buying an existing client base or restructuring their practice and undergoing a whole of practice transfer of the client base. This could include taking on clients who may have outstanding obligations.327

5.32 According to the ATO, the only treatment that has been applied to date is 'to place significantly underperforming tax practitioners onto a guided lodgment program whereby the ATO helps them to achieve the 85 per cent level over time.'328

Results and evaluation of the Lodgment Program

5.33 The ATO has evaluated performance of the 2013–14 Lodgment Program against the following 4 main goals, which were:

  • Goal 1: there is a sustained increase in the on-time lodgment of agent prepared returns;
  • Goal 2: there is a sustained increase in the number of agents meeting the 85% Lodgment Rule;
  • Goal 3: there is a sustained decrease in the number of agents who lodge paper returns; and
  • Goal 4: there is a sustained decrease in the number of paper returns lodged by agents.329

5.34 Goal 1 results are shown in the figure below, outlining the number of tax returns lodged late and on-time by tax practitioners from the 2009–10 to 2012–13 income years.

Figure 6: Income tax returns on-time lodgment comparison (point in time as at 29 June each year)

Source: ATO, Lodgment Program Evaluation Report 2013–14, p 4.

5.35 Table 16 below shows the change in on-time, late and total income tax returns lodged by tax practitioners from the 2009–10 to 2012–13 income years.

Table 16: Income tax returns on-time lodgment comparison
(point in time as at 29 June each year)
Income Year On-Time Change % Late Change % Total Change %
2009-10 9,755,865 N/A N/A 836,397 N/A N/A 10,592,262 N/A N/A
2010-11 9,857,377 101,512 1.0% 966,756 130,359 15.6% 10,824,133 231,871 2.2%
2011-12 10,291,468 434,091 4.4% 789,566 -177,190 -18.3% 11,081,034 256,901 2.4%
2012-13 10,446,617 155,149 1.5% 725,442 -64,124 -8.1% 11,172,059 91,025 0.8%

Source: ATO, Lodgment Program Evaluation Report 13–14, p4.

5.36 Table 16 highlights that for three years prior to the introduction of the Lodgment Program in 2011–12, the number of total income tax returns lodged by tax practitioners steadily increased by more than 2 per cent year-on-year. However, the rate of increase in total returns lodged from 2011–12 to 2012–13 dropped to
0.8 per cent.

5.37 The abovementioned bulk clean-up of client lists would have also contributed to an increase in the proportion of returns being lodged on-time as tax practitioners may have removed late lodgers from their client lists. As mentioned earlier, almost 630,000 clients were removed from agent lists, which represent at least 5.6 per cent of all tax returns lodged in 2012–13. This percentage may be greater as some clients may have needed to lodge multiple tax returns.

5.38 Table 16 above also shows that the number of late income tax returns has decreased, however, the rate of decease in 2012–13 was less than half the rate of decease in
2011–12. Similarly, the rate of increase of income tax returns lodged on time has decreased by more than half from 4.4 per cent in 2011–12 to 1.5 per cent in 2012–13.

5.39 The results for Goal 2 are also noted in the ATO's 2013–14 Annual Report:

The number of agents achieving the performance target has increased by around 37 per cent compared to the benchmark year of 2012.330

5.40 Table 17 shows tax practitioners' performance with the 85% Lodgment Rule from the 2011–12 to 2013–14 income years.

Table 17: Tax practitioner performance 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013–14
Performance 2011–12 % 2012–13 % 2013–14 %
≥85% 9,223 42% 12,229 51% 12,645 53%
65-84% 9,609 43% 8,697 36% 8,417 35%
41-64% 2,523 11% 2,255 9% 2,045 9%
≤40% 754 3% 706 3% 638 3%
Total 22,109 100% 23,887 100% 23,745 100%

Source: ATO, Lodgment Program Framework Evaluation Report 2013–14, p 7.

5.41 Table 17 reveals that in 2013–14, 53 per cent of all tax practitioners met the 85% Lodgment Rule, an increase of 2 percentage points from the previous year and an increase of 11 percentage points from the 2011–12 income tax year. The abovementioned ATO's bulk clean-up of client lists would have also contributed to more tax practitioners achieving the 85% Lodgment Rule. This may be one reason for the large increase in tax practitioners achieving the benchmark from 2011–12 to

2012–13, when the service was in place, and the lower increase from 2012–13 to
2013–14.331

5.42 In addition, Table 18 below shows the average performance for different tiered tax practices in 2013–14.

Table 18: Average performance for different tiered tax practices
(2013–14 Lodgment Program)
Tier Tier Description (a) Number of agents Tier average Number of 'Returns due'
1 Big Four 97 82.30 149,005
2 Second 755 83.90 2,470,397
3 Medium 4,838 82.70 3,191,516
4 Small 4,136 81.30 797,541
5 High Bulk 2,190 85.50 6,318,102
6 Personal Tax focussed 1,946 84.60 1,663,672
7 Micro 9,783 78.00 377,497
TOTALS 23,745 84.30 14,967,730

(a) 'Big Four' tier is made up of four accounting firms, Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers; 'Second' tier is made up of large practices with more than 1,000 clients, including 50 or more business clients with net tax amounts greater than $10 million; 'Medium' tier is made up of practices with more than 300 clients; 'Small' tier is made up of practices with between 100-300 clients; 'High Bulk' tier is made of practices that deal mainly with individual non-business clients and have more than 1,000 clients; 'Personal Tax Focussed' tier is made up of practices that deal mainly with individual clients and have between 500 and 1,000 clients; and 'Micro' tier is made up of practices with less than 100 clients.

Source: ATO.

5.43 Table 18 indicates that only Tier 5, that is tax practices that mainly deal with individual clients and have more than 1,000 clients, met the 85% Lodgment Rule on average for the 2013–14 income tax year.

5.44 The ATO results for Goal 3 and Goal 4 reveal that the number of tax practitioners lodging paper returns in 2012–13 was 3,451 (or 14.4 per cent of all tax practitioners) being a reduction of 10 per cent from the prior year (3,857 to 3,451). In 2013–14, the number of practitioners lodging paper returns reduced to 3,311 (or 13.9 per cent of all tax practitioners) which was a reduction of 4 per cent (3,451 to 3,311).

5.45 Furthermore, the number of paper income tax returns lodged by tax practitioners in 2011–12 was 107,653 (or 0.97 per cent of all income tax returns), which was a decrease of 16 per cent compared to the prior year (127,564 to 107,653). In 2013-14 there were 86,136 paper income tax returns (or 0.77 per cent of all income tax returns), which was a decrease of 25 per cent (107,653 to 86,136).332

5.46 During the review, the ATO announced on 15 February 2015 that it had undertaken a survey to gauge tax practitioners' overall perception and understanding of the Lodgment Program. However, the results of the survey are currently unavailable.333

Multiple outstanding returns and lodgment deferrals

5.47 Following the ATO's commitment to work with tax practitioners where they have clients with multiple outstanding returns, an updated deferral request was released during this review. It specifically asks whether the request is for a new or previous client with multiple years' income tax returns outstanding.334

5.48 The ATO's website also suggests the following course of action, set out in the following example, for tax practitioners who are approached by a new client with overdue current and prior year tax returns:

Example

In January 2015, Stephen is approached by a new client with overdue prior year tax returns for the 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Stephen requests a deferral for lodgment of the 2014 income year tax return until 30 April 2015 to allow him time to complete and lodge the overdue prior year returns.

Stephen's client is still liable for any late lodgment penalties or interest that is applicable for his overdue 2011, 2012 and 2013 returns.

When Stephen's deferral is granted for the 2014 return, he is able to bring the client up to date, and lodge the current year return on time.335

5.49 In response to concerns raised by tax practitioners at the October LWG, about taking on new clients (or re-engaging with prior clients) with multiple outstanding prior year income tax returns, the ATO advised as follows:

The Chair noted that the ATO does not want the perception in the practitioner community that they should be turning away clients, because they are concerned about how this will impact their on-time performance. If the practitioner has the capacity to take on new clients (or re engaged clients) and bring them back into the tax system, the ATO will work with them.

Feedback received from practitioners is that they need time to lodge all the prior years' returns to then be in a position to lodge the current year return.336

5.50 Further, the ATO at the same LWG also resolved to undertake broader initiatives to:

  • [reduce] the impact of past year returns [on a tax practitioners' on-time performance] through the use of lodgment deferrals for the current year's return, where an agent has the capacity to service the new or returning client.
  • highlight the availability of ATO support through targeted communication and development of a handbook for tax agents. This includes updating the deferrals content on the ATO website.
  • re-iterating through communications that only current year income tax returns are included in the on-time performance measure.337

5.51 As stated earlier, the ATO has also sought to address confusion with certain specific communications by clarifying what and when treatments will be applied to tax practitioners who do not meet the 85% Lodgment Rule and softening the tone of its performance alerts.338

IGT observations

5.52 The removal of tax practitioner access to the Lodgment Program is a weighty action which causes them significant concern. It has the potential to substantially impact upon the viability of their business. It also creates an impression for affected tax practitioners that their services to their clients and the tax system are not adequately acknowledged but, instead, they are being punished for delays outside of their control, for example, client delays in providing the required evidence.

5.53 Although many stakeholders agree that action should be taken in relation to tax practitioners who are not managing lodgments appropriately, many insist that such action needs to be tempered by taking into account the circumstances of individual tax practitioners. Furthermore, they believe that the ATO's initial communication with them in relation to the enforcement of the 85% Lodgment Rule was confusing and threatening.

5.54 To the ATO's credit it has publicly acknowledged that the implementation of the 85% Lodgment Rule could have been handled better and that errors had been made particularly in relation to the communications associated with it. The ATO has now clarified the situation, namely, that tax practitioners would not lose access to the Lodgment Program for simply failing to meet the 85% Lodgment Rule but that there would be a graduated approach. This approach is now reflected in materials and communications demonstrating a more measured escalation of ATO actions which depends upon the percentage of the tax practitioner's total on-time lodgments.

5.55 The IGT also believes that the recent changes including the 'treatments' should be consistent across all ATO communication channels and clearly set out in performance alerts. It is also important that performance alerts provide tax practitioners with sufficient information to enable them to independently verify the accuracy of calculations. As a long term solution, this information could be made available online, such as the ATO Portals or in future SBR-enabled practice management software, to enable tax practitioners to self-monitor performance on a real-time basis.

5.56 Furthermore, the IGT is of the view that the ATO should consider changing the name of the 85% Lodgment Rule particularly as the new ATO guidance indicated that there is no 'ATO treatment' unless a 65 per cent benchmark is breached and circumstances where a tax practitioner may be denied access to the Lodgment Program seem to be rare even if their lodgment levels fall below 40 per cent. The concern is that whilst it refers to an 85% lodgment requirement, tax practitioners may fear much worse 'treatment' than those that the guidance sets out.

5.57 Tax practitioners in submissions to this review also criticised the 85% Lodgment Rule for being too rigid or a very blunt instrument that applies to all tax practitioners equally.

5.58 The IGT appreciates that tax practitioners need to appropriately resource their practice for the particular business model they have adopted to address their clients' needs. The challenge is that not all individual practitioner circumstances are the same—their business models are not all the same, just as their client tax returns are not all the same (outside of the high bulk return case). Some offer a narrow range of tax compliance services such as high volume simple returns, while others also provide business advisory services as part of their tax compliance services. Many also deal with other forms of regulatory requirements such as those imposed by ASIC and APRA.

5.59 The projection of an 85% Lodgment Rule may be appropriate for tax practitioners focusing on 'high bulk practices that deal mainly with individual clients that have more than 1,000 clients' as these are the only group that meet that level on average.339 However, the average for all other categories of tax practices fall below 85 per cent.

5.60 The IGT believes that before ATO action is taken in relation to tax practitioners whose on-time lodgment performance is below 65 per cent, the following additional circumstances should be taken into account:

  • the tax practitioner's business model, 'whole of practice' workloads as a result of non-tax regulatory requirements and client profiles;
  • delays caused by factors outside the tax practitioner's control such as late or unresponsive clients and inaccurate work done by other tax practitioners;
  • issues with the ATO Portals and other ATO systems required to complete lodgments; and
  • changes occurring in the tax practitioner environment such as the transition to SBR and ATO Online during 2014–15 and 2015–16.

5.61 In relation to taking on clients with outstanding returns, during this review, the ATO agreed that tax practitioners should not turn away clients because they are concerned about the impacts on their lodgment performance. The ATO has advised that it will work with tax practitioners who have the capacity to take on new clients (or re-engage with previous clients) and bring them back into the tax system. The ATO has, in fact, introduced a new lodgment deferral request for tax practitioners who take on such taxpayers. In addition, during the review, the ATO has also proposed to suspend legal action in relation to the non-lodgment of multiple outstanding returns where those returns are being processed by tax practitioners.

5.62 The IGT believes that the above ATO initiative is a positive step for the tax system as it brings more taxpayers into the tax net whilst also addressing some of the concerns by tax practitioners mentioned earlier. These actions by the ATO assist in demonstrating its recognition, appreciation and support for tax practitioners, particularly those that encourage taxpayers to engage or re-engage with the system.

Recommendation 5.1

The IGT recommends that the ATO:

  1. ensure its communications to tax practitioners, regarding their lodgment performance, contain sufficient information to enable them to independently verify the accuracy of the ATO's calculation of their performance;
  2. consider re-naming the 85% Lodgment Rule to better reflect the consequences of any breach;
  3. assist and provide incentives to tax practitioners who take on taxpayers with multiple outstanding returns by, for example, suspending legal action against such taxpayers where those returns are being prepared by tax practitioners; and
  4. in applying the 85% Lodgment Rule, take into account additional tax practitioner circumstances such as their business model, non-tax regulatory workloads and delays caused by factors outside of their control.

ATO response

In relation to 5.1 (a) – Agree

Recent changes to content have been co-designed by the Lodgment Working Group to ensure the provision of this additional information

In relation to 5.1 (b) – Disagree

The 85% on-time performance requirement is an element of the Lodgment Program framework. There is a high level of awareness amongst practitioners on this aspect of the program. In addition, there is extensive communication material available to practitioners around the consequences/treatments where their on-time performance is below this figure.

The ATO will continue to develop communications to the practitioner community which focuses on improving on-time performance across the profession and on addressing the gaps between perceptions of the program and the actual program.

In relation to 5.1 (c) - Agree

In October 2014 we introduced an initiative to make deferrals available for the current year income tax return to manage new or returning clients with multiple overdue returns (it is only the current year return that is part of the lodgement program). If the practitioner has the capacity to take on new clients (or re engaged clients) and bring them back into the tax system, the ATO will work with them.

Building on this we are proposing to make available 'suspension of lodgment compliance activities' on the prior year returns, as the tax agent seeks to bring the clients' obligations up to date. This is currently a work in progress.

In relation to 5.1 (d) – Agree

As it is presently communicated to practitioners, before applying a treatment/consequence, we will contact agents to discuss individual circumstances that may be affecting their lodgment performance.

To date the ATO has not penalised any tax agents for not achieving the 85% target. We have provided assistance, information and support.

We will take into account a tax agent's performance over a number of years and compliance history before applying any treatments. We acknowledge that there may be circumstances that can impact on an agents' ability to achieve the performance benchmark, which could include:

  • illness and other extenuating factors
  • starting up a new business, for example newly registered agents
  • buying an existing client base or restructuring their practice and undergoing a whole of practice transfer of the client base. This could include taking on clients who may have outstanding obligations.

In these instances, we will work with agents to understand or assist them through any difficult period. The intention is to engage in open dialogue and to work with practitioners to ensure their clients' obligations are met in a timely manner.


304 ATO, Tax agent lodgment program 2014–15 (4 July 2014); ATO, Tax returns by client type (1 July 2014).

305 ATO, Requirements and how they affect you (1 July 2014); ATO, About the Lodgment program 2014–15 (1 July 2014).

306 ATO communication to the IGT, September 2014, p 6.

307 Ibid, p 3.

308 ATO, Lodgment Working Group minutes, March 2012.

309 ATO, 'About the Lodgment program', above n 305.

310 Above n 306, p 5.

311 Ibid.

312 Includes current year tax 'returns' lodged by the deferred due date, 'return not necessary advices' and 'further tax return not necessary advices'.

313 ATO, How we calculate your lodgment performance (1 July 2014).

314 ATO Lodgment Performance alert sent to a tax practitioner by the ATO.

315 ATO, Tasmanian Regional Tax Practitioner Working Group Minutes (July 2012).

316 Above n 306, p 9.

317 Above n 306, p 9.

318 Ibid.

319 Above n 308.

320 ATO Lodgment Performance alert sent to a tax practitioner by the ATO.

321 ATO Lodgment Performance alert sent to a tax practitioner by the ATO.

322 ATO, Lodgment Working Group Key Messages: 8 October 2014 (26 February 2015).

323 ATO, Meeting the lodgment program performance requirement (9 February 2015).

324 ATO, If you do not meet the performance requirement (11 March 2015).

325 Above n 323.

326 Above n 324.

327 Above n 306, pp 4-5.

328 ATO, Submission to Inquiry into the Annual Report of the Australian Taxation Office 2014 (27 February 2015) para 89.

329 ATO, 'Lodgment Program Framework Evaluation Report 13-14' (Internal ATO Document, undated) p 1.

330 Above n 241, p 39.

331 Above n 329, p 2.

332 Above n 329, p 3.

333 ATO, 'Lodgment Working Group (LWG) Minutes' (Internal ATO Document, 19 February 2015).

334 Above n 322.

335 ATO, Do prior year returns affect your lodgment performance.

336 Above n 219.

337 ATO, Lodgment Working Group minutes October 2014 (6 January 2015).

338 Ibid.

339 ATO, 'Lodgment program 2013-14 – Income tax return on-time performance information' (Internal ATO Document, 11 August 2014).