Wednesday, June 26, 2024

‘Deeply offensive’: ATO boss slams -debt comparison - ‘We will look dimly on inappropriate dob-ins’: TPB chairman

 Why pay $1m when you can pay PwC $30m, and help yourself to free IP?

Allegations have emerged that senior officials from the Departments of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and Defence appropriated the intellectual property of a suicide prevention app from a veteran-owned business. Stuart McCarthy with the investigation.

Consulting firm Deloitte was reportedly paid more than $1M by Defence to develop the mental health phone app HeadStrength, partially based on intellectual property (IP) from another company, RedSix.

TPB chair offers Senate little joy on ongoing PwC probes

The Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) has told Senate estimates it expects to conclude two of the nine outstanding investigations into the PwC confidentiality breach by the end of this year.

TPB chair Peter de Cure told Senator Richard Colbeck during a spillover hearing of estimates that two larger cases are expected to be completed this year.

This means there will be seven more disciplinary matters that the board will be working through into 2025 — dragging PwC Australia into yet another year of focus on the tax leaks scandal from which the firm and its chief executive officer, Kevin Burrowes, want to move on.…

‘We will look dimly on inappropriate dob-ins’: TPB chairman

Australian advisers should tread carefully when using new reporting obligations to complain about peers, Tax Practitioners’ Board chairman Peter de Cure tells ITR in an exclusive interview …

Deeply offensive’: 

ATO boss slams 

-debt comparison

Tom McIlroyPolitical correspondent

Tax Commissioner Rob Heferen has 
hit back at criticism of the ATO’s 
handling of small debts owed by individuals 
and businesses, rejecting comparisons to 
the illegal robo-debt scheme as unfair 
and offensive.
in late 2023 the Tax Office unexpectedly 
began pursuing debts previously considered 
on hold or historical. The debts ranged from tiny amounts to tens of thousands of dollars and 
sometimes dated back many years.
At least 28,000 letters were issued to 
accountants and individual taxpayers, 
often taking the recipients by surprise. 
The moves drew strong criticism from federal 
MPs and accounting professionals.
But Mr Heferen – who took over as 
and faced his first Senate estimates 
hearing on Tuesday night – 
said ATO officers considered comparisons 
to the robo-debt scheme unjustified.
A royal commission found robo-debt 
contributed to serious emotional distress 
and at least three suicides.“My officers 
find that deeply offensive,” Mr Heferen 
said. “Deeply offensive.
“The prefix of ‘robo’, almost a bit like 
the suffix of ‘gate’ seems to have catched 
on to various things. If people want 
to criticise a particular activity as 
unfair, then it’s linked to robo-debt.

“We have made mistakes and some of that communication was unclear to people,” he said.

The ATO has paused the push for repayments and promised to review its methods for unpaid liabilities. Parliament will consider laws to allow some taxpayers with debts from before 2017 to have their annual refunds processed as normal.

About 7000 taxpayers have already paid back about $1 million, including nearly 4000 who have cleared their total debt.

Taxpayers are required to keep tax records for five years and make them available in the case of audit or reassessment of annual returns. But some of the debts pre-dated the review period.

The debts in question are categorised as “on hold” because the ATO was not taking active steps to recover the amounts. Taxpayers were informed in writing about the amount, and that while the ATO will not currently pursue the debt, it remains payable.

The ATO has no power to forgive or waive a tax debt. Outstanding amounts are routinely settled when taxpayers lodge an annual return.

In March, the independent tax ombudsman slammed the ATO for its handling of the small debts, warning that government agencies must be transparent in chasing unpaid money and not cause unnecessary distress.

The Inspector-General of Taxation and Commonwealth Ombudsman issued a new set of best-practice guidelines on how government agencies should tell individuals they owe money, using the small debt failure as an example of what not to do.

Greens senator Nick McKim said taxpayers who had repaid their debts based on the original letters should receive refunds.

“You’re going to provide discretion to the ATO not to pursue some of these debts, but you’re not going to provide discretion to the ATO to refund the debts that were paid by people who received a confusing communication for which the ATO has apologised,” he said.

“You’re effectively penalising people who were intimidated by a confusing piece of communication into paying a debt.”

The debts in question are small beer for the ATO.

Its recent annual report showed the total debt book for individuals and businesses had increased by 89 per cent in the four years to 2023, reaching $50.2 billion at June 30.

You should tackle your debt slowly, one bite at a time.


ATO has ‘stuffed’ robo-tax debt recovery effort: ombudsman


Tax Office scraps robo-debt style push on repayments