Tax professionals and business owners have been left stranded by an outage of the Australian Taxation Office’s systems that began on Sunday afternoon and has continued into Wednesday morning.
One Queensland small business, Tax Invest Accounting in Helensville, told SmartCompany the outage has even pushed back the business’s planned Christmas closure by a week.
“We had planned to close on Friday and all that has just gone out the window,” accountant Belinda Raso says.
The outage has forced the firm to reschedule five clients today alone, and Raso has had to tell last-minute referrals who have approached the firm before Christmas that they will have to wait for any work to be completed.
“We’re probably looking at a [cost to us of a] couple of thousand [dollars] at this stage,” she says.
@SmartCompany yes!!! Had to reschedule clients both days. Cannot finalise jobs. Pushed back office Xmas closure by a week. Costing us $$
— TaxInvest Accounting (@tax_invest) December 13, 2016
While the main ATO website came back online at 6:40pm on Tuesday evening, more than 52 hours after the initial site failure, the ATO Business Portal and Tax Agent portal services remain unavailable on Wednesday morning.
This has made filing Business Activity Statements and using lodgment services for tax practitioners impossible as accountants and businesses rush to fill in paperwork before the end of the year.
Tax practitioners have taken to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to express their frustration, says that phone calls to the general ATO line have not resulted in any updates on when the services will be back up and running.
Many point out that the Tax Agent portal is now an essential part of accountants’ work when filing information on behalf of clients. Some say they are now behind in the cases they need to resolve in the lead-up to Christmas, while others have had to cancel meetings with clients.
While some people have seen humour in the challenging situation, others are promising to pass invoices on to the tax office for the time they have been unable to work.
On Wednesday at 9:00am, the ATO posted an update on social media promising that no client information had been lost during the site shutdown, and that the IT team would continue to use backups to restore the system throughout the day.
SMEs working in the tax field expressed frustration that the general ATO website was the first to be restored when the actual productivity costs of the outage were due to SMEs unable to complete their own or their clients’ tax affairs before Christmas.
“Let’s not worry about all the businesses and taxpayers out there you have effectively destroyed Christmas for them,” said one comment writer.
This morning acting ATO chief information officer Steve Hamilton said the tax office will ensure no clients are disadvantaged because of the outage. The tax office confirmed the goal was to restore the Tax Agent portal by the end of Wednesday, with other services to come back online “progressively over the next few days”.
Spokesperson for the National Tax Accountants Association James Deliyannis told SmartCompany that with the deadline for monthly BAS statement lodgments coming up on December 21, the outage would be frustrating accountants, who would be now experiencing a time crunch in the final two weeks of the year.
“Given we’re coming up to Christmas, clients have already gone away. These obligations have to be done by 21 December, and the the problem is that this reduces the time [to complete them],” he says.
“I don’t have any answers at the moment – I don’t think anyone else does. From personal experience I haven’t seen anything [like] this before.”
Seventy-two hours of confusion
On Sunday at 2:00pm the ATO’s website and portal systems, including the Business Portal and Tax Agent portal, went offline after problems with a “new hardware storage solution”, according to the office. The issue compromised a petabyte (1000 terabytes) of information, which included data, applications and systems. Backup files reportedly failed to kick in as expected, with technicians now working with backups to restore all services.
The ATO released a statement on Tuesday afternoon stating that it is working with Hewlett Packard Enterprises to fix the outage, and said it will “work with all clients to ensure that nobody is disadvantaged as a result of these systems issues”. On Tuesday evening, it posted an update to Facebook, assuring accountants and tax agents that their IT services team would be working “through the night” to get the portal systems back online.
At the time of publishing, the business portal systems remain offline.