Tax Practitioners Board Consultative Forum Report – 10 November 2015
On Tuesday 10 November 2015, Ian Taylor (Chair) and Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) colleagues held a TPB consultative forum in Sydney with representatives predominantly from a number of TPB recognised professional tax and BAS agent associations.
The key points discussed at the forum are summarised below. In accordance with past practice, it is intended only to provide an overview of the issues that were discussed and does not represent the final views of the TPB, nor is it intended as minutes of the forum.
Update from the TPB
- As at the end of September 2015, the total number of registered practitioners increased to 72,692, including 55,949 registered tax and BAS agents (in total) and 16,743 tax (financial) advisers.
- The TPB continues to meet service standards as outlined in the TPB’s Strategic plan, with the TPB ensuring it is in a good position in readiness for forthcoming processing of transitional and standard registration applications from tax (financial) advisers.
- The known percentage of individual tax and BAS agents who are members of a TPB accredited recognised professional association has increased slightly since the last consultative forum. As at the end of September 2015, the known percentage of registered individuals with recognised association membership was 86% of individual tax agents and 59% of individual BAS agents respectively (compared to 85% and 56% as at the end of May 2015).
- As at the end of September 2015, 290 cases were finalised in the financial year to date (with most finalised within service standards) and there were 266 matters on hand. There continues to be a very small proportion of registered agents on which sanctions are applied and there has also been a continuing trend with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal affirming the TPB’s decisions.
- The number of complaints received from external sources in the September 2015 quarter was 407, with this number increasing in comparison to the corresponding period the previous year (337 complaints received in the September 2014 quarter). It was observed that this increase has occurred in conjunction with increasing awareness of the TPB (including pursuant to Outreach activities and the June-July 2015 tax time communications campaign) and that it is recognised that there is still work to be done in continuing to build awareness of the role of the TPB and registered agents among the public community at large.
- It was also reiterated that the TPB has an internal review process, with complainants encouraged to contact the TPB in the first instance. Further, it was noted that the TPB will continue to reinforce relevant messaging and that letters are also being reviewed for the purpose of providing further clarity and information where possible (being mindful of privacy requirements).
Regulation reform agenda update (previously known as ‘Deregulation’)
- Current deregulation savings so far this calendar year (up until the end of October 2015) are $2.4 million.
- Suggestions from forum members to reduce the need for TPB interaction and improve processes are always welcomed.
Tax (financial) advisers
- As at end of September 2015, there were 16,743 registered tax (financial) advisers - comprising 688 Australian financial service (AFS) licensees and 14,859 authorised representatives, with the TPB continuing to receive a small but steady number of applications.
- The TPB is continuing to progress preparations to ensure operational readiness for the transitional and standard registration phases commencing from 1 January 2016, including testing forms and correspondence, and expansion of communications activities.
- Work has also continued to progress on extension of the registered agent symbol to tax (financial) advisers who apply or renew under the standard registration option. This process is on track for availability in 2016, with the updated guidelines to also allow for a landscape option to address display issues with use of LinkedIn.
- The TPB is also progressing guidance on the Code of Professional Conduct (Code) for tax (financial) advisers, having due regard to feedback received from the Financial Advisers forum.
- The forum noted the listing of recently issued TPB information products and observed that a range of material continues to be developed, including the:
- TPB 2014-15 Annual report
- updated TPB Strategic Plan 2015-16
- eNews editions in August and October 2015
- updated information sheet TPB(I) 09/2011: Software providers and the Tax Agent Services Act 2009
- updated Complaints overview and Make a complaint website documents (to provide further clarity and information)
- latest online edition (No. 4) of the Summary of penalties, sanctions and terminations, which includes some of the most recent compliance outcomes and decisions by the TPB’s Conduct Committee, and cases that have been heard by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
- Website improvement: The TPB is progressing work on reviewing and improving website content for the purpose of enhancing the user experience and reducing the time taken for processes, with usability testing findings informing this work. This work will continue into 2016, wherein there will be a focus on website structure (providing user-segmented information) and improved search and navigation functionality.
- Webinars and Outreach: The TPB has continued presenting webinars, including tailored sessions for newly registered tax and BAS agents in September and October and a further session is scheduled for 23 November. These sessions have been well received, with a good level of attendance and interaction. It was also noted that further details regarding webinar scheduling are on the TPB’s website.
- Tax time advertising campaign: The forum noted the TPB tax time advertising campaign that was undertaken from 28 June through to 11 July about the importance of using a registered agent, which involved a mix of digital and radio advertising in capital cities. In particular, it was noted that:
- the estimated audience for the campaign was 6.1 million people via announcements accompanying traffic updates on FM commercial radio networks, and 2.3 million via digital display and mobile advertising on news and finance websites
- coinciding with the campaign, there was a 23 per cent increase in the number of visitors to the TPB website and 14 per cent more visitors to the TPB Register
- Registered agent symbol requests also increased in conjunction with emails that were sent to agents (who had not requested the symbol) before the campaign commenced – increasing from 9,299 in late May to 11,190 in late June. It was also noted that there has continued to be a steady increase in the number of requests (12,928 as at 6 November 2015).
- It was also noted that, subject to funding, the TPB plans to undertake another public awareness campaign in 2016 specifically focusing on small business owners to facilitate further awareness of the need to use a registered tax practitioner.
Annual declarations for registered tax and BAS agents:
- It was highlighted that the first release of the annual declaration for registered agents (to demonstrate that they are meeting their obligations as a registered agent) will occur on 17 November for those who have an anniversary renewal date on 1 January. An article was included in the latest edition of eNews (that was released at the end of October), website content has been published and there will be an accompanying media release and short video published to coincide with the annual declaration form being available.
- It was noted that the annual declaration is due on the anniversary of the practitioner's renewal date (other than in the year that registration needs to be renewed), with a formal request sent to the agent to let them know when their annual declaration is due and instructions on how to complete the declaration.
- It was observed that the annual declaration replaces the existing annual professional indemnity (PI) insurance notification requirement that agents were previously required to complete each year, with the intention being to reduce the overall administrative burden on agents (including time required to fill in information) while also providing additional consumer confidence. In particular, the annual declaration is a simple way for all registered tax and BAS agents to show they meet ongoing registration requirements, including:
- having PI insurance cover (with pre-filled details where the agent has previously provided this information to the TPB)
- undertaking continuing professional education (individuals only)
- any changes in practice structure and/or personal details (including information voluntarily provided by the practitioner concerning recognised association affiliation)
- satisfying fitness and propriety requirements
- meeting personal tax obligations.
BAS services legislative instrument
- It was noted that the TPB issued a consultation paper to the forum members in September for feedback (comment period closed on 16 October), that minor changes were made subsequent to receipt of submissions, and that the instrument is proposed to commence the day after it is registered (pursuant to the Legislative Instruments Act 2003).
Cloud computing and the Code of Professional Conduct
- The forum noted the draft Exposure Draft (ED) – providing brief guidance to tax practitioners in relation to how interaction with Cloud influences meeting the Code obligations – had been updated pursuant to consideration of feedback received at and subsequent to the previous forum.
- The forum supported release of an ED for a 45-day comment period, noting that it is a starting point for public discussions, that further comments can be provided during the public submission period and that there will be referral back to the Consultative forum for further guidance in the event that any contentious issues are raised during this submission period.
- It was also noted that the TPB’s forward work program includes the development of other guidance in relation to software and that TPB is in ongoing discussions with software providers and the ATO to address other issues separately outside of the information sheet, for the purpose of assisting providers and their clients to comply with relevant requirements under the Tax Agent Services Act 2009.
- The forum briefly noted that the TPB considered comments and submissions received on the original ED on labour hire firms and that it was reissued for a second exposure draft period on 20 October. It was noted that the ED was prepared for the purpose of assisting on-hire firms involved in the provision of tax related services to understand the operation of the tax agent services regime and whether or not they need to register with the TPB. It was also observed that submissions on the ED close on 4 December.
- Implications for tax agents of clients using MyGov: It was noted that matters have been raised in relation to the obligations of agents where clients have a MyGov account, in particular where the tax agent is unaware of correspondence from the ATO being directed to that account. The forum noted that the TPB is currently scoping out relevant information and considering the relevant issues raised in consultation with the ATO.
- Trust accounts: In relation to difficulties being experienced by a small number of agents in relation to opening trust accounts with particular financial institutions, it was observed that the TPB had followed up the issue with the Australian Bankers' Association (ABA) and the Accounting Professional and Ethical Standards Board (APES Board) and exhausted all options.
- The Chair thanked forum members and noted that he would commend to the incoming Board the continuance of the forum and scheduling meeting dates for the 2016 calendar year early in the new Board's term.
Last modified: 1 December 2015