ATO Commissioner to small business: “We can make things easier and simpler”

The Tax Office is reviewing its debt collection practices with regard to small businesses, but Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan told a gathering of SME representatives yesterday there is “more we can do”.

In a speech delivered at the NAB Small Business Summit, at which SmartCompany was in attendance, Jordan said the ATO is constantly reviewing how the regulator interacts with SMEs.

Jordan also said the ATO may look at consolidating the huge amount of correspondence sent to small business, with the hope of eventually putting many requirements and information online.

“Part of my job is the need to collect debt and help small businesses manage that,” he said. “We are taking a closer look at the viability of businesses in assessing what actions we can or cannot take.

“I believe there is more we can do to make things easier and simpler for you.”

Jordan acknowledged “time means money” for both businesses and the ATO, saying “we need to improve our productivity”.

He commented on registering his own ABN last year as a consultant, and the subsequent materials sent by the ATO regarding his tax obligations – most of which went straight to the bin.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you could do all your interactions online, and if the ATO could prepopulate your returns with information we already know and then send it to you for confirmation?”

Jordan has only been in the role of commissioner for six months, but says he has already investigated ways to make compliance easier for SMEs – including the possibility of creating a small business-focused app.

Jordan said the ATO needs to become more of a “services organisation”, rather than just an enforcer of compliance.

“I’m asking all managers in the ATO to help drive shifts in culture,” he said. “I want a greater sense of purpose and timeliness, more streamlined processes and better risk management.

“We must take a reasonable and differentiated approach supporting those who want to do the right thing, and taking action on those who don’t.”

However, Jordan said that given 60% of debt is owed by small businesses, it is crucial the Tax Office pursues companies which have obligations after a collapse – collapses which often affect other SMEs as well.

“If we don’t get the balance right, those who aren’t paying tax may get an unfair advantage.”

“I want us to get the balance right, and be reasonable and sensible.”


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