Tax agents say the rollout of a new tax and business activity statement (BAS) portal cannot come soon enough as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) releases a public beta trial for the service.
After a delay and amid ongoing criticism over the stability of its current tax agent portal, the ATO last week announced it is moving ahead with a public trial of its new online service.
The rollout will occur gradually from mid-January, with all tax agents expected to be able to access the new portal by the end of March.
The portal will replace an ATO legacy system, in place since 2002, which allows tax agents to lodge client records and communicate with the tax office on behalf of clients.
The full-scale release of the new portal is highly anticipated by accountants and will, according to those SmartCompany spoke to, make it easier for agents to provide better services to clients.
However, there is apprehension about the new service given the ATO’s track record with its online service, which has been plagued with stability issues in recent years.
David McKellar of Allied Business Accountants says the new portal will come with a range of improvements to benefit practitioners.
“We will gain access to some things we have been asking for for a long time, that the ATO has not been able to offer through the existing portals,” McKellar tells SmartCompany.
“Namely access and visibility of superannuation accounts that are not available in the existing portals, and the ability to view and also put in place payment arrangements.
“These two items will probably reduce the amount of time we spend on the phone to the ATO by 50 per cent.”
McKellar says the biggest benefit, however, will involve potential integration of practice management systems and online software.
“This will enable tax agents to streamline many administrative tasks, save time and ultimately deliver superior service to clients as well as improving internal efficiencies.”
For Lisa Greig of Perigee Advisers, a platform that doesn’t go down all the time will be a welcome improvement.
“The new platform has to be more reliable and up more than the old one,” she tells SmartCompany.
Greig hopes the new platform will better allow her to compile data about her clients from multiple sources in one place, which then might enable clients to get more up-to-date information about their financial situation.
“We want efficiency in the back end, but also the ability to have better interactions with our clients.”
The rollout of the new system has been delayed, which places implementation closer to another big undertaking for the ATO in 2019: the rollout of Single Touch Payroll (STP) for businesses with fewer than 20 employees.
Grieg says she’d rather the ATO test the new portal properly and release a complete version though, rather than rushing the process and giving tax agents bugs and glitches to contend with.
The ATO said last week it may decide to speed up the gradual rollout in the coming weeks, based on initial testing.
“We may decide to stop the gradual rollout and provide all agents with access to the system before the end of March. Once this occurs we will update the tax and BAS agent portal login pages with an option to access online services for agents,” the ATO said.
“We recognise this is a significant change for you and your practice. To help you transition to the new service, the tax and BAS agent portals will remain available during the beta.”