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TPB Consultative Forum Report 23 June 2015

Tax Practitioners Board Consultative forum report – 23 June 2015

On Tuesday 23 June 2015, Ian Taylor (Chair) and Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) colleagues held a TPB consultative forum in Melbourne 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

The TPB is continuing to focus on streamlining processes and improving the end-user experience wherever possible. This includes progressing work on the project to improve the online forms and update the TPB website.

Registrations

  • The TPB continues to meet service standards, as outlined in the TPB’s Strategic Plan, with an overall weighted average of 15 days for processing completed registration applications during the March to May 2015 period.
  • The number of registered tax and BAS agents continues to remain stable at around 55,000 in total.
  • The known percentage of individual tax and BAS agents who are members of a TPB recognised professional association has also remained steady – 85% of individual tax agents and 56% of individual BAS agents as at end of May 2015.

Tax (financial) advisers

  • As at end of May 2015, there were 15,547 registered tax (financial) advisers – comprising 688 Australian financial services (AFS) licensees and 14,859 authorised representatives. The TPB is continuing to receive a small but steady number of applications from AFS licensees and authorised representatives. Overall, the notification process has worked well.
  • The TPB is continuing to progress preparations in relation to operational readiness for the transitional and standard registration phases commencing from 1 January 2016, with communication activities to be expanded to reach representatives (including employees, directors and other individuals), as well as AFS licensees and authorised representatives, in the lead up to 1 January 2016.
  • The last of the tax (financial) advisers registrations policy documents were finalised:
  • The TPB is now focusing on progressing guidance on the Code of Professional Conduct (Code) for tax (financial) advisers, having due regard to feedback received from the Financial Advisers Forum (including in relation to priorities).
  • The TPB has also sought extension of the registered agent symbol to tax (financial) advisers (for the purpose of providing application to standard registrants), noting that it is subject to external approvals. If approved, an appropriate implementation and communications strategy will be developed.

Compliance

  • 1,102 cases were finalised as at end of May 2015 (financial year to date), with most finalised within service standards. There have been 101 sanctions applied in the financial year to date (including 38 terminations and 2 suspensions, 35 orders and 26 written cautions), representing a very small proportion of registered agents.
  • There has also been a continuing trend with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) affirming the TPB’s decisions. The forum also noted recent significant Federal Court decisions, including in relation to Mr Peter Kolya and his company Kolya Pty Ltd.
  • The total number of complaints received from external sources was 1,182 as at end of May 2015 (financial year-to-date), marginally less in comparison to the same period last year. Of these 1,182 complaints, the number of complaints received from the public was 990, which is similar to the amount received (984) as at the corresponding time in the previous year.

Communication activities

  • The forum noted the listing of recently issued TPB information products and observed that a range of material continues to be developed.
  • Tax time advertising campaign: The forum noted and supported the TPB tax time advertising campaign about the importance of using a registered agent, which involves a mix of digital and radio advertising in capital cities from 28 June through to 11 July. It was highlighted that the TPB consulted with the ATO in regard to messaging, that the digital advertisements refer to the Registered agent symbol and that the TPB is undertaking an associated communications strategy to further promote the symbol.
  • Webinars: Pursuant to active engagement and positive feedback from the recently completed webinar pilot (conducted for tax and BAS agents in Tasmania, Northern Territory and far north Queensland), the TPB has updated its Outreach program to incorporate a greater emphasis on webinars. An ongoing schedule of webinars is currently being planned to commence from September, with tailored content to be provided to target audiences (e.g. newly registered agents, annual declarations and specific topics).
  • The TPB Outreach program will also continue to incorporate face-to-face events, speaking engagements and involvement in Australian Taxation Office open forums as appropriate. It was reiterated that the TPB would welcome opportunities to participate in relevant association conferences and speaking events on pertinent topics.
  • TPB website refresh: Findings from usability testing are informing the work the TPB is currently doing to improve its website and online forms, for the purpose of enhancing the user experience and reducing time taken for processes. In updating the website, relevant consideration is being given to structure, presentation, location and content. It was highlighted that there will be both short and long-term improvements.

Regulator performance framework

  • The forum noted the TPB self-assessment metrics document, which was developed in accordance with the requirement to implement the Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) that commences on 1 July 2015. It was observed that the RPF assesses one aspect of regulatory performance (minimisation of regulatory burden, focusing on the administration of regulation) and that the metrics document had been updated pursuant to forum feedback, including from the 20 May 2015 phone hook-up and other written submissions.
  • It was also noted that annual self-assessment reports will be provided to the forum and published on the TPB website, and that relevant information will also be referenced in the TPB Annual report.

Policy matters

Cloud and software

Revised software developer information sheet

  • The forum noted the revised software developer information sheet TPB(I) D27/2015: Software providers and the TASA, which had been developed pursuant to a request that was raised at roundtable discussions as part of ongoing consultations with software industry stakeholders.
  • It was noted that public submissions closed on 10 June 2015, with minor changes being made pursuant to these submissions. No additional comments were raised and it was observed that the TPB intends to publish a final information sheet as soon as possible.

Cloud computing and the Code of Professional Conduct

  • The forum provided feedback on an under-embargo pre-exposure draft in relation to how interaction with Cloud computing influences meeting Code obligations.
  • A number of comments and suggestions were raised in relation to the paper for the purpose of providing clarity and guidance and it was resolved that feedback on relevant issues be sought from the ATO’s Future of the Profession working group (which includes representatives from the software industry) before progressing any further work on the paper.
  • It was also noted the TPB forward work program includes the development of information sheets in relation to backing up data and software subscriptions, with relevant cross-referencing to occur in due course as appropriate.

Labour hire firms

The forum also noted that public submissions closed on 22 June 2015 in relation to TPB(I) D28/2015: Labour hire firms, which provides information to assist labour hire firms to understand the tax agent services regime, what is a tax agent service and to help determine whether or not labour hire firms need to register with the TPB.

Annual declarations for registered tax practitioners

  • The TPB is progressing work on the proposed streamlined annual declaration process, to be released later this year and based on the registered practitioner’s registration anniversary date.
  • The declaration will cover notification of a number of items, including:
    • professional indemnity insurance (replacing the current notification process)
    • continuing professional education
    • fitness and propriety
    • personal tax obligations

    and also act as a prompt to advise of any change in registration details or circumstances.

  • It was reiterated that the intention is to reduce the overall administrative burden on practitioners (including time required to fill in information) while also providing additional consumer confidence.
  • The forum noted the general compliance approach and that there will be extensive communications activity. It was also confirmed that a copy of the communications strategy will be provided to TPB recognised professional associations prior to commencement.

Other business

Trust accounts

It was commented that some registered agents have experienced difficulties in opening trust accounts with banks and that it is not an isolated issue. It was confirmed that the TPB will reconsider the issue and report back to the Forum as appropriate.

Next meeting

The next forum will be held on 10 November 2015 in Sydney.

Last modified: 15 July 2015