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ATO goes online for tax innovation

IMAGINE being able to access your tax records and pay your taxes through an ATM or an on-line bank. Imagine if the Australian Tax Office provided information that was customised to meet each of our needs. Business operators could spend more time on building their businesses and less time managing their tax obligations.

According to Tax Commissioner Michael Carmody, those days may not be too far off.

“I think the time is right for us to work more closely with telcos, banks, software providers and accountants to pilot some even more innovative arrangements to produce a wider suite of products for businesses that incorporate tax-related services,” Mr Carmody said.

The ATO has already started testing new ways to make the tax experience easier, cheaper and more personalised.

One of these is an online account facility. Mr Carmody said it should be ready for testing by tax agents and small businesses by the end of 2002. Next financial year it should be available to the community.

“Businesses would be able to transact and access information online through their own personal website with the tax office,” he said. “They could view their account details and make enquires online.

“For example, people might be able to see the tax returns they have lodged, or find out where their correspondence is in the system, or even get a message prompting them to claim something they may have left out.”

Two years ago it took 28 days to get an ABN, but now you can get one instantly on the Internet.

You can also have an on-line interactive conversation with the ATO while you are filling in your ABN form. In addition, the Australian Business Register will soon be upgraded to enable businesses to view and change their ABN details on-line.

Also currently being trialled by the ATO are web-based BAS forms that can be lodged from personal computers and linked to on-line banking facilities.

A secure on-line service is already available to tax practitioners, which enables them to access client information. According to the ATO, this will be expanded over the next few months to provide access to further information.

Last month the tax office introduced an electronic system for classifying food items for GST. The industry-wide electronic product catalogue for barcoding is currently being used by more than 7,000 food suppliers.

A new paperless system is also being used by truck and bus operators to claim their on-road fuel grant.

Since July, 50,000 truck and bus operators have been using their Caltex or Motorcharge fuel card to get their fuel grant payment sent directly to their bank accounts, without any paperwork.

During July, 150,000 Australians lodged their tax return via the Internet using e-tax, the ATO’s free electronic tax return. According to the ATO, e-tax does most of the calculations for you – it gives you an estimate of your tax refund or amount payable, and often means a quicker refund.

The ATO expects half a million tax returns to be lodged electronically this year.

To assist those people using the facility, an on-line chat room is currently being tested.

“An easier, cheaper and more personalised tax experience could just be the start,” Mr Carmody said.

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