ATO sounds warning on ‘unforgivable’ auditor behaviour

ATO sounds warning on ‘unforgivable’ auditor behaviour

The ATO has warned it is closely monitoring the activity of SMSF auditors and is currently considering a new set of rules in relation to auditor independence.

The ATO has found a number of auditors are continuing to audit their own SMSFs, said Howard Dickinson, director, SMSF approved auditors and AC liaison, superannuation, ATO at the SMSF Association’s national conference in Melbourne yesterday.

“We’ve still got 40 from last year’s process and we’ve already found some from this year’s process, and no doubt that number will go up,” Mr Dickinson said.

“We can’t believe that people still have this mindset and we think it’s unforgivable.”

Mr Dickinson acknowledged the ATO may have been “a bit generous” in the past with this kind of behaviour, but is now ready to take action given the clear breach of independence obligations on the auditor’s part.

“We have the new regime [in] place, the changes to SIS basically state independence is an obligation, whereas some people argued with us in the past that it wasn’t a SIS obligation. So now we’re thinking ‘Where to from here?’”

The ATO is considering disqualifying any trustee who is a registered auditor and appoints themselves as the auditor of their fund.

“It’s based on the fact that as an auditor you are a professional, you know your obligations you know what you are allowed to do, if you appoint yourself in your other role as a trustee as the auditor [of your fund], we think there’s a real clear message about you failing your obligation as a trustee,” Mr Dickinson said.

“They won’t like that, they don’t have to argue with ASIC about that – it’s the commissioner’s decision, and it’s reviewable, but at the same time it’s a big decision.

“If we’ve disqualified someone as a trustee, from ASIC’s point of view and the TPB’s point of view and all of those other players, the commissioner has made a finding, not a recommendation, not a referral – a finding.”

Mr Dickinson said ATO staff are questioning why action along these lines wasn’t taken several years ago.

“That’s probably about us as an organisation thinking outside the square instead of doing things like we’ve always done,” he said.

Speaking more broadly, Commissioner of taxation Chris Jordan also said the ATO has recently approached 280 auditors about their claimed level of auditor activity, which he suggested was falsified in an effort to avoid sitting an auditor exam.

“People don’t realise we can count the number of returns they do, it’s not that hard actually,” Mr Jordan said. “So depending on their responses we will refer them to ASIC for further action on that.”

ASIC also warned it is monitoring claimed levels of activity, with deputy chair Peter Kell saying ASIC recently disqualified two auditors who falsified the number of audit reports they had issued in the previous 12 months.

The ATO will also be mailing out to approximately 300 auditors this year where there are independence concerns, Mr Jordan said.

***Correction: An earlier version of this story said the ATO had recently approached 28 auditors about their claimed level of activity. In fact, the ATO approached 280.***

ATO sounds warning on ‘unforgivable’ auditor behaviour
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