IPA takes ATO portal fight to government, national stage
The Institute of Public Accountants has gone on the front foot in pushing for ATO online services to be available 24/7 amid planned portal outages ahead of tax time.
The ATO recently announced it would update its systems over a two-day period from 23 to 24 June, during which no tax returns can be processed during that time.
Further, the ATO’s online systems, including the tax agent and BAS agent portals, and the Practitioner Lodgement Service (PLS) would be unavailable in part or in full for scheduled weekly maintenance every Tuesday from 11.30pm to Wednesday 7.00am; Thursday 11.30pm to Friday 7.00am; and Saturday 11.30pm to Sunday 7.00am (all AEST).
Maintenance outside of business hours – and sometimes during business hours — is fairly standard procedure for the tax office, but is becoming an increasing source of frustration for tax and BAS agents.
In a submission to the inquiry into the ATO’s 2017 annual report, Institute of Public Accountants general manager of technical policy, Tony Greco, said public holidays and weekends is when some tax practitioners plan to get uninterrupted work done and, thus, are disadvantaged when services are taken offline for three days for scheduled maintenance.
“Some practitioner expectations are that ATO online services should be available 24/7 like other institutions such as banks. The ATO does not have a service standard relating to the availability of its systems,” Mr Greco said.
“This is something that the IPA would like to see from online agencies such as the ATO, the concept of a service standard. This is important as the use of online services is increasing and has become the primary means of transacting with the ATO.”
Mr Greco also noted the discrepancy between the ATO’s expenditure on MyTax, $28.11 million of the last three financial years, and on the tax agent portal, $22.25 million over the same period.
“Our members have high expectations that the new online portal will provide productivity enhancing features when it is finally deployed, addressing in part the imbalance in expenditure,” he said.
“Building optimal online systems to support tax professionals that replaces the ageing portal is critical for the process of re-building the confidence in the ATO.”
Speaking to Public Accountant, Kevin San and Associates director, Kevin San, said his practice tends to do a lot of work after hours because he’s either with clients during the day or has to meet with a client on the weekend because they're not free during the week.
Further, he said firms that work after hours or on the weekend are fairly poorly served by the portal anyway.
“There's quite a noticeable drop in the response time and the system speed after nine o'clock at night and on the weekend even when it's working fine,” Mr San said.
“For smaller firms that do a lot of portal work after hours, it's already a frustrating exercise.”
But Mr San felt most for the ATO staff, because the human interaction he’s had with the ATO has overwhelmingly been positive.
“We often feel the frustration that they have on their side. A lot of the time a tax agent will be on hold while the ATO staff try to reconcile the system on their side,” he said.
“The lack of functionality really affects everybody right now, but mostly their own staff. On the practitioner's side, the issues with the portal are more annoying, but I imagine it's a massive productivity issue on the ATO side. That should be the ATO’s main source of motivation.”