Some businesses are holding back on lodging their tax returns because of cash flow problems, ironically driven by a fear of potential reprisal, the ATO has discovered as part of its business visits.
Speaking on the My Business Podcast recently, ATO assistant commissioner Peter Holt said that the Tax Office’s greater visibility in the community Australia-wide through its program of business visits has enabled it to more proactively reach and assist businesses that may be struggling with their tax liabilities.
“We’ve found a number of examples where businesses are behind on their lodgements, but just didn’t know how to go about getting them up to date,” Mr Holt explained.
“Businesses that didn’t have the cash flow and therefore didn’t want to lodge their tax returns, because they were in fear of what would happen next.
“So, we sit down with them and we explain that it’s best to get your lodgements up to date, and then we can work with them in terms of the payment arrangements on any outstanding debts.”
According to Mr Holt, many business owners have been pleasantly surprised by the level of assistance they have received from visiting ATO officers, who collectively aim to reach up to 10,000 businesses nationwide each financial year.
“They become really quite surprised when they realise that it’s not a big, bad, horrible tax office. And we actually do really want to help small businesses thrive,” he said.
“We do want small businesses to reach out and seek support and assistance, from not just the Tax Office, but also their tax agents more regularly.
“If they’re keeping good records, then they actually know how the business is tracking, they can actually complete their lodgements on time, and they actually know they’re running a viable business and shouldn’t be worried about getting behind in any of their obligations.”
According to Mr Holt, the business visits are bearing fruit, with the ATO now seeing more timely reporting and lodgement of taxes as the fears of business owners are allayed.
“We’ve seen increased lodgement of activity statements; we’ve seen increased GST registrations, where they didn’t know about registering or how to appropriately register for GST; and we’ve also seen a reduction in outstanding payments,” he said.
“So, we are really helping businesses get back on track.”
Mr Holt’s colleague Andrew Watson, also an ATO assistant commissioner, is speaking live on today’s (Thursday, 21 November) My Business Live webcast on all things cash flow related. Business leaders can join the discussion from 11am (AEDT) and submit their questions via the webcast page.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.