Tax

Calls for ATO service standard as another systems dropout “eats away” at accountants’ welfare

Emma Koehn /

The idea of a service standard framework for the Australian Taxation office has been raised this week, after a four hour outage of services on Thursday meant some SMEs had to stop work for the day, leaving their offices in “disgust”.

Two weeks ago the tax office released its post-mortem of the major systems knockout which occurred when one of its storage area networks (SANs) failed during December 2016, leading to a series of outages and problems throughout the start of 2017.

The ATO has assured clients that service stability is a priority in the lead up to tax time, but at 10:30 am on Thursday it let disgruntled accountants know that an unplanned outage was causing “intermittent systems issues” which prevented the completion of a range of document filing capabilities. At 2:15pm, clients were advised that portal services were progressively coming back online.

I don’t want to under emphasise the stress caused by this. Mental health issues become a concern for our members, and this eats away at them,” general manager of technical policy at the Institute of Public Accountants Tony Greco told SmartCompany this morning, saying yesterday’s outage saw accountants piling up to express their “absolute disgust” in the situation, with many downing tools for the day. 

Greco says that the lack of a relevant plan for compensation for small businesses who have been preventing from completing work is a big problem, and suggests the ATO should be subject to service standards that specify what recourse there is if the ATO fails to deliver its services to clients.

“A service standard would be around if the services go down for a certain time, there’s a consequence. A service standard could be tied to financial implications if something goes wrong.”

Speculation was rife that the problems this week had been caused by another hardware crash, with ITNews reporting an SAN operated by the ATO’s other IT provider, Leidos, had gone down.

However, when asked by SmartCompany for further information on the cause of the problems, the tax office said it would not be providing further comment on the cause of yesterday’s disruptions.

Despite regular updates and assurances of progress from the ATO’s social media team, the four hour dropout infuriated tax professionals who were scrambling to complete work in the last week of the financial year. Some asked for a list of staff members who had been sacked over the issue.

While accountants have previously been assured by the tax office that the major failure is being resolved, with the ATO securing a commercially confidential settlement with its hardware provider HPE over December’s problems, there has been no offer of a formal compensation program for SMEs who say they have lost substantial amounts due to the dropout in services.

The last two weeks of June are peak season for the accounting sector, with impending changes to superannuation also meaning financial service providers are rushing to get last minute paperwork in for clients who have self-managed super funds.

While Greco says the accounting profession understands the tax office is doing what they can, unplanned outages don’t inspire much confidence that service issues are behind them.

“They have to prioritise stability for 2017, and that’s why this outage was another bit of a wakeup call,” Greco says.

For SMEs who need access to the tax agent portal and other services in order to complete client work, there’s really not much they can do if systems go down, he says.

“They’re running a business here, and there’s no plan B.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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