More than 130% rise in trustee disqualifications in March
There was more than a 130 per cent increase in the number of trustees disqualified year-on-year, according to the latest statistics released by the ATO.
The regulator released the statistics on the number of trustee disqualifications processed to March 31, 2023, which revealed 588 trustees were disqualified for the 2023 financial year up until the end of March this year, representing a 134 per cent increase on the 2022 FY of 251 disqualified trustees.
And with three months until the end of the financial year, it would be no surprise if those numbers go even higher said a leading auditor.
Shelley Banton, head of education at ASF Audits, said the ATO’s concerns around increased activity in illegal early access appear to be founded by the massive spike in disqualified trustees.
“While SMSF trustees can be a target of unlawful early access scams, the ATO has seen an increase in the number of SMSF trustees accessing their funds for reasons such as paying off business debts, holidays, renovations and new cars,” she said.
“The other red flag is the number of SMSFs who haven’t lodged their first annual return and those lapsed lodgers, indicating there may be compliance breaches for not lodging.
“The results also show that the ATO is dealing with a larger cohort of SMSF trustees with serious breaches and compliance history. The reason is that the ATO will typically disqualify trustees where there are concerns that the individual will either remain a future compliance risk or a risk to their retirement savings.
“Given that the ATO only disqualifies a trustee after other enforcement action has been considered, it demonstrates that the SMSF sector’s integrity continues to be maintained.”
Ms Banton said the ATO has definitely identified illegal early access has increased.
“It did put out warnings to let trustees know if they were repeat offenders they would be targeted,” she said.
“I don’t think it is bad [the disqualifications] as they have been identified through auditor contravention reports and voluntary disclosures. It provides integrity to the super system and shows that SMSF professionals are identifying people that should not be in SMSFs, and these latest statistics prove it is working.
“As auditors, we understand the economic impacts of what happens when people try to access their super early, but it doesn’t bely the fact that super is for retirement – not now – and that is why there are strict conditions of release.
“These statistics don’t include those SMSFs that continue to play by the rules but rather the lowest common denominator that aren’t doing the right thing.
“Of course there will be some people who have been scammed by illegal operators that tell them they can access their money earlier, but the SIS rules stop at the trustee level so at the end of the day they are ones who are accountable.”