Major ATO website outage puts accountants on edge ahead of June 5 concession deadline and HECS-HELP indexation

A major Australian Taxation Office (ATO) website outage left small businesses and accountants unable to file claims over the weekend, with frustrated tax agents reporting tech difficulties into Monday morning.

The ATO website faced unexpected technical difficulties on Friday, limiting access to the online portal used by tax professionals.

Taking to social media on Saturday morning, the ATO said it was investigating the tech disruptions as a “priority”.

But issues plagued the ATO website and its services into Sunday, leading the tax office to apologise for the inconvenience caused to accounting professionals.

The problem was caused by a network issue, an ATO spokesperson told SmartCompany.

“A fix has been implemented and services were progressively restored from Sunday afternoon,” the spokesperson added.

But some tax professionals claimed they were still facing issues as of Monday morning, taking to social media to vent their frustrations.

“The tax agent portal is still down, any expected time to restore it?” one person commented on the ATO Facebook page.

“Is this a repeat of December 2016?” another commenter asked, referencing a dramatic outage which knocked major systems offline for two days and caused weeks of problems leading into 2017.

Lisa Greig, founder of tax and business advice service Perigee Advisers, said it was “like somebody pulled the plug” on vital ATO services.

“It was totally, totally down,” she told SmartCompany.

“We couldn’t do pre-fills. We couldn’t do anything on the weekend.”

The outage also came at a particularly tough time for accountants.

Not only are tax professionals working outside of traditional office hours to keep up with the EOFY rush, many accountants are hoping to lodge tax returns before June 5 — after which lodgments due on May 15 will begin accruing Failure to Lodge penalties.

The authority is “really getting stuck into us with Failure to Lodge and GIC (General interest charge),” Greig said, adding that “COVID pity has well gone”.

“The ATO will provide further information on its support for those attempting to lodge income returns over the weekend,” the spokesperson said.

Greig said she could access the ATO’s online services as of Monday morning, but some concerns remain.

Beyond business clients whose lodgments may be affected, the ATO outage has also impacted those looking to pay down their HECS-HELP debt.

Indexation on HECS-HELP debts, tied the Cost Price Index, are set to rise on June 1 to 3.9% — the largest uptick in more than a decade.

The average HECS-HELP debt is set to rise by around $1,013 as a result.

Some social media users who planned to make last-minute HECS-HELP repayments over the weekend said they were hampered by the ATO outage.

“The HECS/HELP debt is determined as at 1 June each year and individuals can still make payments ahead of that date to reduce their debt,” the ATO representative said.

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