Tax

Three-day planned ATO outage labelled “ridiculous”, but accountants say ongoing maintenance is critical

Emma Koehn /

Taxpayers and accountants have questioned why the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) needed to take services offline for the three days during the Australia Day long weekend in a planned outage just one day before superannuation payments are due.

But accounting experts say outages are par for the course if systems are to remain stable.

The ATO planned to take key services offline, including the Australian Business Register and other business portals, between 11:30pm on Thursday evening and 7am on Monday morning for scheduled systems maintenance.

Taxpayers were warned of the outages, but this didn’t stop users being caught off guard by the situation on the weekend before the superannuation payments date for the quarter.

The tax office assured users via social media they would be able access the systems by the required due dates for superannuation and business activity statement lodgments, but many questioned whether an outage of three days was acceptable given the number of planned and unplanned outages that have occurred since a major incident in December 2016. 

“Some of us try and take advantage of public holidays to get uninterrupted work done,” said one accountant.

“Their ancient website is absolutely ridiculous,” said another taxpayer.

There are 11 more instances of planned maintenance this year, mostly occurring between Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings.

Despite confusion about this weekend’s maintenance on social media, the Institute of Public Accountants’ (IPA) general manager of technical policy Tony Greco says at this point, planned outages for maintenance are just “part and parcel” of ensuring the systems stay stable in the long run.

“Some of these systems are old and they’re quite large,” he says.

“They’ve [the ATO] probably got a need to make sure things are working as intended.”

Greco says there’s no excuse for being caught out by scheduled outages at the tax office, saying “when there’s advanced warning, people usually change their processes”.

The ATO confirmed to SmartCompany this morning that tax professionals had been given at least a month’s notice about January’s outage.

“We schedule this work over weekends and public holidays and give affected clients as much notice as possible to minimise any disruption to their business. The maintenance this weekend was first communicated to tax professionals in late 2017.” 

The due date for employer superannuation payments for this quarter was January 28, but the ATO says because this day was on a Sunday, the due date is today, January 29.

The IPA says it’s happy with the commitment from the tax office to ensure systems stability in the long term.

However, Greco observes there is no longer a firm timeline as to when systems upgrades will now be completed, despite them being promised prior to the tech issues of 2016 and 2017.

“We have a promise [for system upgrades] but they’re not putting any date on it,” he says.

Greco observes the systems problems of the past year may have driven home the importance of getting systems working properly, which could have put the ATO off a specific release date for upgrades.

“They’ve learned some lessons, that they’d rather release things when they know it’s right.”

While he says the IPA “doesn’t begrudge them taking a bit more time” with system improvements, the number one concern for accounting professionals is being able to access systems consistently.

What’s critical for most of our practitioners is stability. We can live with tired old systems, as long as they’re available.” 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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