Tax

ATO online services knocked out again: “If this was happening at my business staff wouldn’t be keeping their jobs”

Emma Koehn /

The Australian Taxation Office suffered yet another unplanned online service outage on Saturday afternoon, prompting more frustration from business owners and calls for SMEs to plan ahead given the increasing reliance on online service providers across the board.

The tax office, which has suffered a number of service issues since a major outage of its portal and web services in December 2016, had notified clients of a planned outage to commence on the evening of Saturday, May 7, which would affect portal services and the Australian Business Register (ABR) until the evening of Sunday, May 8.

However, at 9:55am on Saturday morning the office advised frustrated accountants and individuals that services had gone down again, and technicians were working on a fix.

Small business owners have labelled the continued outages as “beyond a joke”, telling SmartCompany the regular interruptions have cost them both in terms of workflow and cashflow since the initial outage on December 11.

Since that time, there have been dropouts to the business services about once a month, with the ATO advising its users each time that technicians are working hard to get services back online.

Services were restored at around 5:00pm on Saturday, however, the planned maintenance continued as planned, knocking out some services once more for the rest of Sunday.

“If this was happening in my business the staff wouldn’t be keeping their job after repeated fails. I guess that’s the difference between having to work to keep your customers and having the law dictate you must deal with an organisation such as the ATO,” one client wrote on Facebook in complaint on Saturday.

Others said they had planned their workflow expressly around advice from the ATO on planned outages, and the premature dropout had cost them.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, an ATO spokesperson said the outage on Saturday was “was part of scheduled systems maintenance that went over the allocated window”.

“Our systems were progressively made available from mid afternoon as we completed testing on each system. We had a further scheduled outage from Saturday night to Sunday night.”

Scheduled outages are undertaken to ensure the office’s systems are robust in the lead up to tax time, the spokesperson said.

“This is not uncommon now”

Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong says this latest outage is just more evidence of how the temperamental nature of online systems can be a big cost for businesses, and SMEs need to work out contingency plans for service dropouts across all of their service providers.

“I’m calling this a supplier problem — when a supplier goes down it can really affect you, and the question is how do you manage that?” Strong says.

“We’re saying this is not uncommon now — just look at how common are cyber attacks,” he says, reflecting that all platforms are vulnerable.

This concern extends beyond the tax office, Strong says, and system failures come at a cost to much more than just business owners.

“This isn’t just the problem for a business … it impacts on the business and is really stressful, but it also impacts the community,” he says.

While SMEs can’t completely insulate themselves from service dropouts of providers like banks and telcos, they now have to expect this could be a cost to their businesses, Strong believes.

“As much as it’s disappointing, I think in business we’ve just got to plan for it now. What can businesses do for themselves?”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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