Digital by default: Tax Office seeks tips on herding technophobes

By Stephen Easton

December 3, 2015

The Australian Taxation Office is on verge of the forcing digital-by-default on customers, but it’s still open to suggestions on how to make the change as painless as possible.

The ATO has begun a community consultation about how to begin directing as many taxpayers to digital channels as possible. The paper suggests financial penalties could apply to people who do not use the “right channel” in future, just as they do for late lodgements.

The only exception will be those without the ability to do so. Those who find it a big deal to switch from paper to digital will get “time and support” to make the change, according to deputy commissioner Michelle Crosby, but exactly how that will work depends on the feedback the ATO gets.

Though the decision is already made, the agency wants feedback on the way it goes about the change so perhaps the most important question in the brief document is:

“What do you think is the best way to transition those who deal with us to digital services?”

Crosby explained: “We want to make sure we have a fully-rounded understanding of the support needed to transition to digital services, the approach we take for those who cannot use digital services, and any concerns people might have.”

There are also opportunities for taxpayers to explain how and why they think the switch will cost them money, and for tax professionals, software developers, public servants and community groups to advise on how to help people cope with the change. It is estimated that about 70% of people will be unfazed by the move to digital by default, and a further 25% will make the change with a little extra help.

For the small number of people the ATO accepts are not able to switch to digital, there will be alternative services available. Legitimate reasons to avoid the shift to digital could relate to disability, age, cultural and religious reasons, natural disasters, being in a remote area without internet access, or not owning any kind of digital device.

The regime being considered would provide temporary or ongoing exemptions to those who ask for them and have a valid reason, and occasionally to whole groups such as towns and regions affected by natural disasters at the commissioner’s discretion.

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