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ATO offers lifeline for small business owners

The ATO has urged accountants to be on the lookout for the mental health of their small business clients as it offers its support in the lead up to World Mental Health Day on 10 October.

ATO offers lifeline for small business owners
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After a series of public messages urging taxpayers to lodge by the 31 October deadline, the tax office has asked accountants to refer clients who are struggling to meet their tax and super commitments because of stress, anxiety or depression to the ATO to apply for deferment, setting up a tailored payment plan, or organising a call-back or assistance visit.

“We recognise the enormous pressure small business owners are under when dealing with mental health issues,” said the ATO deputy commissioner for small business Deborah Jenkins.

“We want to use this day to reiterate our support to those who need help with their tax and super commitments”.

With more than one in five people in the workforce experiencing some sort of mental health condition, the ATO has listed some common “red flags” that accountants should look out for.

Warning signs include, finding it hard to concentrate; avoiding necessary day-to-day tasks and obligations; feeling irritable, stressed or teary; constantly thinking of work, even during personal time; being unable to sleep; disconnecting from friends and family; changing eating and/or drinking habits.

The Institute of Public Accountants has been a strong supporter of mental health, with chief executive Andrew Conway leading research into the role accountants play in helping alleviate stress levels in small business owners.

“Do we really stop and think when [clients] walk through the doors of our practice or they give us a call, it's possibly the most important conversation they're having that day or in that week, and they could be coming with a whole raft of concerns and anxiety that in that one interaction with us as an accountant, we have the power to reduce the stress and anxiety which has a direct impact on their mental health and wellbeing,” said Mr Conway.

The IPA’s upcoming Small Business White Paper will provide a comprehensive approach to the issue, including strategies for accountants to handle the delicate situation with at risk clients.

“It’s fair to say when you do your accounting degree and your qualification with your professional body, you don’t necessarily cover issues of clients at risk or clients in crisis and we want to make sure that accountants are equipped with those skills to manage those situations in practice that are so regularly occurring,” said Mr Conway.

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