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Automatic tax returns could become reality

18 September 2018 1 minute readShare
Tax time, tax folders, tax returns

Australian taxpayers would have their tax returns automatically pre-filled, reducing the need to visit a tax agent, if recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry are enacted.

The House of Representatives standing committee on tax and revenue’s inquiry into the Taxpayer Engagement with the Tax System has laid out 13 recommendations in a bid to simplify the Australian tax system.

One of the recommendations calls for the ATO to improve its technical initiatives such as pre-filling, simplified electronic lodgement systems for business and individuals, and online assessment tools to facilitate Australia’s transition to a ‘push return’ tax system, which is essentially a pre-filled statement of tax activity for a taxpayer to approve.

The committee lists Denmark, Sweden, and Norway as other countries that have successfully adopted a ‘push return’ approach, while noting that taxpayers in New Zealand do not have to lodge a tax return.

Standardising workplace deductions have also been highlighted as an area that would help enable ‘push returns’, while still allowing taxpayers to claim above the set amount by providing full substantiation.

This recommendation comes as tax agents are under fire from the ATO for allowing unsubstantiated claims to filter through from clients.

Earlier this year, the tax office released its Individuals not in business tax gap report, identifying that 72 per cent of the 868 cases in its random sample contained errors, contributing to the individual tax gap being over three times the amount of the reported $2.5 billion corporate tax gap.

Of the 614 tax returns prepared by a tax agent, the ATO made adjustments to 78 per cent, compared to 57 per cent of the 244 returns for self-preparers.

“Some [tax agents] display a lack of competence, or outdated knowledge and practices, or do not take proper care when undertaking their work; others are deliberately scamming or cheating the system,” said ATO boss Chris Jordan prior to the report being released.

“These results are really disappointing. For years I’ve heard how tax agents were guardians of the system – these random enquiry results tell me this is not the case for some agents," he said.

“They are not fulfilling their duty as a registered tax practitioner in line with the Tax Practitioners Code of Conduct,” he added.

“In reality, they are selling their clients short – they are not bringing their expertise, nor taking care beyond reliance or blind acceptance of information given by clients, or even, leading clients to deductions that are not allowable.”

Automatic tax returns could become reality
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Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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