ATO hits out at coalition of media outlets following ‘alarmist and misleading’ claims
The ATO has hit out at a coalition of media outlets following allegations that the Tax Office is taking money directly out of people’s accounts without their knowledge.
Earlier this week, the Right to Know coalition launched a public awareness campaign pushing for stronger protection of press freedoms and whistleblowers.
In a video aired on Monday night, the coalition depicted a taxpayer who had just found out that the Tax Office had drawn out a large sum of money from their bank account. The voiceover said: “The Tax Office can take money directly out of people’s accounts but you’re not allowed to know.”
Commissioner Chris Jordan refuted the statement on Tuesday, calling it “categorically incorrect”.
“This misleading statement would have you believe that we go about helping ourselves to large sums of money from people’s accounts at a whim without them knowing. This is ridiculously incorrect,” Mr Jordan said.
He said that when it comes to debt collection, the Tax Office attempts to contact a taxpayer on average 19 times before exercising its garnishee power as a last resort.
“We have a legal obligation to collect debts from taxpayers, however using garnishee powers, which have been part of Australian tax laws for several decades, are only ever a last resort when the taxpayer has refused to engage with us,” Mr Jordan said.
The commissioner assured that when pursuing a debt, the ATO considers all aspects of the taxpayer’s circumstances.
“This extends to offering payment plans, and where taxpayers experience serious hardship, we provide targeted support using a range of debt relief options including waiving penalties and interest charges,” he said.
Referring to the coalition’s claims as fictitious, alarmist and misleading, Mr Jordan said the Tax Office is concerned “this coverage serves only to create tension and worry for taxpayers where it did not previously exist, and perhaps even stop people from coming to us to get their tax affairs back on track”.
“If you have a debt and are trying to do the right thing, we're committed to understanding your situation and helping you,” he added.