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The ATO has recently been in the news and featured on Channel 9’s A Current Affairarticle ‘Tax Grab Scandal’ for the ‘unfair actions they were taking against 3 businesses.

Here’s my take on the ‘scandals’ and the lessons we can learn from these cases from the limited information that was released.

Pizza Shop $2 Million Dollar Bill

Due to legal reasons the ATO was unable to release specific details of the case, however, their press release stated:

Where taxpayers fail to lodge tax returns and BAS returns over a number of years, despite our repeated requests for these to be submitted we will raise a default assessment based on the evidence we are able to obtain.

In this case, it appears that the pizza shop in question had, most likely, not been lodging their tax returns with the ATO and hence not paying tax. In this case, the ATO estimated what their tax bill ‘could’ have been and topped it up with some hefty penalties.

The ATO has numerous ways of calculating income. I was involved in an audit a long time ago where the ATO calculated an estimate for another pizza shop by looking at the number of pizza boxes the shop purchased and multiplying it by the average price for each pizza sold.

Does the ATO give any warnings before sending the bill? Yes, they do. Prior to issuing the bill the ATO sends numerous warnings about non lodgment, potential penalties, how they arrived at their calculations and the amount that they were about to assess. Once issued it is very hard to have the penalties remitted.

Lesson1: Make sure you are up to date with the ATO with your BAS and income tax returns.

Business ABN Cancelled

In the case of this ‘scandal’ it appears that the person in question may have been travelling and/or it may have been a communication error that lead to his ABN being cancelled. Sometimes cancellation notices are sent out for an ABN that is rarely used or about to be used.

It is the ABN holders responsibility to keep their ABN details up to date with the Australian Business Register (ABR) – in reality not many people do. The Australian Business Register therefore will occasionally send out correspondence checking ABN’s and if records are not up to date it can lead to the ABN being cancelled.

Lesson 2: Respond to the ABR’s correspondence advising them you are still using the ABN and they will not cancel; if they have already cancelled it contact them, they’ll reinstate the ABN.

Lesson 3: Make sure your address is update with the ABR or that there is a central point for your mail.

Incorrect Tax Bill

We all wish our tax bills were incorrect and the amount we have to pay is much smaller than the numbers indicate (or much higher if the numbers are a return)! But in this case, an incorrect tax bill was legitimately sent to this unsuspecting customer.

The ATO uses data matching and other tools to generate and distribute tax assessments. Technology sometimes gets it wrong and an incorrect tax bill is sent out.

Once the error has been identified, prior to sending out the bill the ATO will advise of their intention to issue an amended assessment (bill) and give a period of time for you to contact them.

Lesson 4: Contact the ATO as soon as possible to understand the information they are using to come to their calculations.

At the end of the day …

The ATO is looking after over 16 million individuals and entities, mistakes and errors will occur, what is important is

  • Make sure you are up to date with your lodgements
  • Your contact details are correct with the ATO
  • In the event of an error, contact the ATO as soon as possible to sort out the issue.

If you have any questions or need any help with getting up to date with the ATO or resolving an issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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