The ATO has a vision – and it could mean less red tape for small business owners

The ATO has a vision – and it could mean less red tape for small business owners

The ATO has a vision (no, not a dream – this is closer to reality than you might think) of significant improvements in the way in which taxpayers and businesses deal with their tax obligations.

The intention is to make the whole process of dealing with tax obligations and the ATO more efficient.  

It’s not pipedream stuff, and its aim is totally admirable. What the ATO has in mind is not that far away, so SMEs should take heed.

ATO second commissioner Geoff Leeper says the ATO has a vision that by 2020:

  • there will be a whole-of-government account, which will provide businesses with a complete view of their taxation relationship with the ATO;
  • businesses will use software to keep their records [no doubt many already do this, but the ATO is keen that this is expanded];
  • the software will automatically provide the interaction needed between the ATO and those businesses and/or their advisors for tax and government programs (e.g. social security, etc) compliance;
  • using a standard chart of accounts, developed in consultation with industry, businesses will be able to keep records, deal with their bank and meet their tax obligations;
  • the use of standard business software will enable the seamless provision of the data to the ATO; and
  • the ATO will use the standard chart of accounts to determine a business’s tax obligations.

In the not too distant future, the ATO is thinking about other changes including:

  • Tailoring an individual tax return to the individual’s specific circumstances – e.g. if you are 30 years of age, why does the current electronic tax form ask you to complete the label relating to the Seniors Tax Offset? The current tax form is a one-size-fits-all approach which is inefficient. The ability to tailor the form to an individual’s specific circumstances could save time and make compliance easier.
  • Using so-called natural systems – how can the ATO use the systems that entities use for their own business purposes to generate the information needed for tax purposes? For example, payroll data, where the use of standard business reporting software can reduce the compliance burden for business without compromising the quality and accuracy of information required by state and commonwealth governments.
  • Reducing (or even eliminating) the burden for compliant individuals with simple tax affairs by generating “push” tax returns – Leeper said the ATO has substantial amounts of information about taxpayers and for those with simple returns, it estimates that on current policy settings, the ATO could initially offer a “push” tax return for as many as 1.4 million people, and in fact is aiming to do so from 2014.

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