Groups representing Australian accountants and tax agents are calling for compensation for businesses that have been affected by the outage of Australian Taxation Office services that started on Sunday and continues to cause issues on Thursday morning.
Chief executive of the Institute of Public Accountants Andrew Conway says this week’s outage is just the latest incident in what is becoming a frustrating history of issues with the ATO’s systems, and reassurances to tax professionals that the system will be improved going forward are now falling on “deaf ears”.
“Our members have highlighted to us on many occasions that they have suffered productivity loss, missed deadlines, and incurred irrecoverable costs as well as damage to their reputations and relationships with their clients,” Conway says.
“Our member feedback has consistently stated that the ATO portal, which is an essential tool of trade for practitioners and agents, has been a constant point of frustration due to the portal’s instability and unreliability.”
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The IPA points out that this week’s outage, which businesses have told SmartCompany has meant pushing back their planned Christmas closures at a cost of thousands of dollars, comes at the same time as the publication of a report from the Inspector General of Taxation that suggests current frameworks pose challenges for tax practitioners seeking compensation when outages occur.
This morning the ATO’s acting chief information officer Steve Hamilton issued another update on the ongoing restoration of the services. The main ATO website came back online on Tuesday evening, while the Business Portal and Tax Agent Portal services portals, used by businesses and tax agents, were restored on Wednesday evening.
However, users complained on social media that the portals were still displaying limited functionality into Thursday morning, with Hamilton saying the process to completely restore the portals is ongoing.
“The Tax Agent Portal, BAS Portal and Business Portal are back online and we expect to see continued improvements in the functionality of these services, as well as ato.gov.au, today,” he says.
“We have done what we can to restore priority services and acknowledge there is a significant amount of work to stabilise our IT environment and bring remaining applications back online.”
However, accountants remain frustrated by the situation, with many saying this morning they have been able to log in to the portals, but cannot complete all client work because they are experiencing dropouts and don’t have all of the usual functions available to them.
Those that rely on the ATO’s online services to complete work have been waiting for days for the services to kick back in.
“I was sitting in the office colouring in because I didn’t want to get sent home without pay 2 days in a row,” wrote one frustrated worker on Facebook who couldn’t access the services.
The ATO has warned users will need to be patient today as everyone logs back on.
“We appreciate the community’s patience today as there will be increased traffic through our systems as people start to use them again,” Hamilton says.
This is the fourth day of no or limited functionality through several of the ATO’s services. The Tax Institute told members last night that it is making it clear to the tax office the scale of the cost to business owners.
“We have expressed to the ATO our disappointment on behalf of members that this has occurred and stressed to the ATO the adverse impact of the outage on tax agent practices,” president Arthur Athanasiou said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
While the Tax Institute acknowledged that all the details of what caused the outage are not clear, it said there must be accountability. “A full and thorough investigation of what happened needs to occur to ensure that this episode is never repeated,” the organisation said.
On Wednesday SmartCompany spoke to small business Tax Invest Accounting in Queensland, which has so far had to cancel on several clients and push back its Christmas closure by a week. Other small businesses said this was one of the worst time for such an outage to occur, with quarterly BAS lodgements due on December 21.
“Let’s not worry about all the businesses and taxpayers out there you have effectively destroyed Christmas for them,” said one comment writer.
“Our priority focus today is on restoring systems that process refunds, and we will fast-track refunds where we can in the lead-up to Christmas,” the ATO said this morning.
The tax office is advising users to clear their cache and cookies before attempting to log into portal services this morning. With a large number of users expected to log on at once, the ATO is advising patients as “further improvements” are made to the platforms.
Over the last hour, individuals have also complained to the ATO via Facebook about receiving dozens of scam emails purporting to be from the tax office. A member of the ATO’s social media team has recommended any correspondence believed to be a scam be reported to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au.