ATO backs role of accountants despite automation push

The ATO has insisted it is not attempting to “do tax agents out of a role” through its automated tax services, and has stressed the essential role accountants play in SMSF compliance.

The Coalition’s myTax scheme, comprising online and substantially pre-populated tax returns, has been widely predicted to hurt accounting businesses.

The system was available for the first time for 2013-14 tax returns.

Geoff Leeper, second commissioner of the ATO, told sister publication AccountantsDaily that the automation process would only alter the types of work available to the accounting profession.

“We are not trying to do tax agents out of a role; there are always going to be those questions of interpretation and that question of people’s confidence in dealing with the tax system,” he said.

“There is also the potential upside of the financial services profession and the tax agent profession being able to reposition themselves slightly as trusted business advisers."

Speaking to SMSF Adviser, an ATO spokesperson said tax agents and accountants have a pivotal role to play in assisting SMSF trustees understand their obligations and remain compliant, and was confident automation will have a positive effect on this role.

“Automated processes and software will free up tax agents, accountants and other SMSF advisers’ time from having to manually enter data into financial reporting systems, or to manually complete online forms etc. and afford them more time to focus on providing value added advice and support to SMSF trustees to help them and ensure that they comply with their regulatory and income tax responsibilities,” the spokesperson said.

They also noted that ATO material encourages SMSF trustees to seek professional guidance.

“Much of the ATO guidance and support encourages trustees to engage the support of SMSF professionals, particularly for the more complex aspects of their SMSF’s regulatory and income tax obligations,” the spokesperson said.

“The ATO is unlikely to ever have the capacity to engage one-on-one with every SMSF trustee on a regular basis, and the ongoing advisory relationship that SMSF trustees have with their trusted adviser is an essential element in ensuring that the SMSF sector operates effectively and as intended for the sole purpose of growing and providing retirement and death benefits for SMSF members."

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