ATO vows ‘plain English’ approach in communications

By Broede Carmody

Thursday December 10, 2015

The Australian Taxation Office says it is in the process of changing how it goes about engaging with individual taxpayers and small businesses.

Speaking at COSBOA’s MicroEconomic Challenge in Sydney, Steve Vesperman, the ATO’s deputy commissioner, admitted there was a perception in the community that the ATO was only about catching people out. But he says the ATO is no longer “travelling on our merry way with eyes and ears closed”:

“We had to change our dynamic, because our role is largely about assisting and supporting and doing as much as we can to support the business community to get it right. The more we do that, the more we think we’re creating a viable, sustainable and forward-thinking business community that thrives in today’s environment.”

Vesperman said the ATO used to send out letters to taxpayers written in complicated language, but now favours plain English:

“We demonstrated our technical expertise in everything we sent out — beautifully crafted communiques, brochures and letters of the highest quality. But could you understand them? Hardly anyone could understand the information we sent out. That’s not the way it is today.”

The ATO now allows taxpayers to ask for advice after business hours and has launched its own app so small business owners can automatically calculate expenses.

The Tax Office is also allowing sole traders to make activity statements and pay-as-you-go instalments online if they have a myGov registration, with the view of expanding these services to private entities and trusts in the near future. Vesperman noted:

“We are very committed to driving this transformation and change. We’ve got things happening today, we’ve got things happening tomorrow. But the bottom line is the small business community is working with us to drive these changes because, at the end of the day, it benefits us all.”

This article was originally published at SmartCompany

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