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ATO Cracks Down On Dishonest Tax Agents

by Mary Swire, Tax-News.com, Hong Kong

06 March 2007


The Australian Taxation Office has launched a new telephone service designed to allow taxpayers to report dishonest or unethical tax agents.

Commenting last week on the ATO website, Commissioner of Taxation Michael D’Ascenzo explained that:

"While the vast majority of agents do the right thing, some in the industry have told me they are concerned others may be gaining an unfair commercial advantage through unlawful and dishonest practices."

"In support of the majority of agents who do the right thing, and in recognition of the high value of information and intelligence they can provide, today I am launching a dedicated integrity phone line specifically for tax agents."

"The new service will allow tax agents to report instances of unethical or unlawful behaviour directly to us. For example, agents can notify us of:

  • unregistered preparers
  • poor or indifferent behaviour of other registered tax practitioners
  • compliance problems with clients, and
  • systemic problems in the industry.

We have been working hard with the industry to address their concerns and ensure the service meets their needs."

He went on to reveal that although the vast majority of tax agents were broadly supportive of the initiative, concerns were expressed regarding the need for safeguards to ensure that malicious complaints are filtered from legitimate complaints, the need to ensure the privacy of client information, and the need to validate any information received.

However, Mr D'Ascenzo stated that:

"We listened to these concerns and I am confident that the processes we have put in place to support the phone line are rigorous and transparent."

"Trained staff will be responsible for receiving calls and will use a detailed series of questions to obtain useful information and clarify details."

"Before we can do anything with a complaint we need high quality information that can be substantiated and is based on evidence – we will not act on malicious or vexatious complaints."

"All verified complaints and relevant information will then be referred to specialist staff in our tax agent integrity team."

"The team will use their substantial knowledge and understanding of the industry, comparing complaint cases with industry patterns and trends to assess the risk. They will also look at cases in the context of compliance history."

He continued:

"We will only follow-up once allegations have been fully investigated and where we have a reasonable concern. From that point, depending on the level of risk, we may choose a range of actions from simply writing to or visiting people, to taking firmer action in the form of audits, prosecution, or referral of matters to the Tax Agents’ Boards."

"The Tax Agents’ Boards are designed to promote a capable and well regulated profession, and to provide consumer protection. The phone line will complement these services and the processes already in place with industry associations."


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