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TPB Consultative Forum Report 9 March 2010

Tax Practitioners Board Consultative Forum - 9 March 2010

On 9 March 2010, the Tax Practitioners Board (Board) held its inaugural Board Consultative Forum (Forum), in Melbourne, with representatives from a number of professional associations.

  • Board representation at the Forum consisted of:
  • Dale Boucher – Chair of the Board
  • Russell Smith – Board member
  • Cynthia Coleman – Board member
  • Geoff Robinson – Secretary of the Board
  • Janette Luu – Advisor to the Chair of the Board
  • Lina Raineri – Office of the Secretary 
  • Iris Cheng – Office of the Secretary

The Forum was represented by the following professional associations:

  • Association of Accounting Technicians
  • Association of Taxation and Management Accountants
  • Australian and New Zealand Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
  • Australian Association of Professional Bookkeepers
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
  • Institute of Certified Bookkeepers
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia
  • Law Council of Australia
  • National Institute of Accountants
  • Tax Institute of Australia
  • Taxpayers Australia

The following professional associations sent their apologies:

  • CPA Australia
  • Corporate Tax Association

This Report outlines the key points that were discussed at the Forum and this Report is only intended to provide an overview of the issues that were discussed. They do not represent the final views of the Board and are not intended as detailed minutes from the Forum meeting. 

1. Overview of the preparatory work being done by the Board and the Secretariat

The Chair and the Secretary provided the Forum with a brief overview of the work undertaken by the Board since the preliminary Forum meeting on 20 January 2010.

The Secretary’s update focussed on the centralised inquiry services through the website, call centre and mail services.

An overview of the work undertaken by the Board from 21 January 2010 to 9 March 2010 is summarised below:

 

28 January  Media Release
Tax Practitioners Board actions roadmap for Consultative Forum
1 February Board committee met to discuss professional indemnity insurance issues
2 February Media Release
Tax Practitioners Board announces Secretary
2-3 February Tax Practitioners Board meeting
4 February  Working Group met to discuss entry, registration, experience and qualification issues for tax agents and BAS agents
5 February Working Group met to discuss professional practice issues for tax agents and BAS agents
10 February Board Committee met to discuss the application and other forms (registration, transitional notification and application etc) that are now available on www.tpb.gov.au 
11 February One on one consultations with professional groups and industry bodies
12 February Board Committee met with Professors Walpole and Dirkis to further discuss the Report prepared by them
18 February Presented a speech at the SMSF Professional Association Annual Conference re new tax agent services regime
19 February Presented a speech at the NIA’s Brisbane members new year function
25 February Media Release
Agents to have Professional Indemnity Insurance from 1 July 2011
1 March Media Release
Tax Practitioners Board commencement 1 March
2-3 March Tax Practitioners Board meeting
5 March One on one consultations with professional groups and industry bodies

2. Forum’s draft Charter

At the preliminary Forum, the Chair highlighted the need for the Forum to have in place a governance plan.

A draft Charter was distributed, (prior to this meeting), to all members and the Chair invited comment.

The Forum adopted the draft Charter as an interim Charter. Adoption of the final Charter is subject to including a clear reference in the Charter to the object of the new tax agent services regime. That is, to ensure that tax agent services are provided to the public in accordance with the appropriate standards of professional and ethical conduct.

An amended interim Charter will be tabled at the next Forum meeting for finalisation.

3. Board’s communication strategy

A number of questions in relation to the Board’s communication strategy for agents, professional bodies and the community were raised. 

The Chair advised that the website (www.tpb.gov.au) is the key channel for communication and awareness. The Secretary also provided an update on communication activities to date, including current numbers of BAS online notification and application registrations.

Some Forum members stated that State and local governments and the bookkeeping profession were largely unaware of the new regime.

The Board is aware of the question of coverage of State governments under the TASA and work is being undertaken by the Board on this issue, The Chair also recognised the need to continue to communicate the new regime to the bookkeeping and BAS profession, bearing in mind the resources available in the Board.

Some Forum members raised issues with navigating the Board’s website and the need to make the website more user friendly. The Chair and the Secretary took on board these comments and advised that they will look at what can be done to make the website more accessible, including, the addition of a ‘What’s new’ feature and a weekly update to the associations/subscribers to notify them of any new information added to the website.

4. Definition of what is a tax agent service

The Chair advised that the Minister had made an announcement to exclude particular in-house advisers, however, the details of the exclusion had yet to be announced by the Government.

This issue of coverage is currently with the Government for consideration and therefore the Board is not in a position to comment at this time.

5. Recognition of tax agent and BAS agent associations

The Chair noted that application forms are now available on the website for associations seeking recognition as either a recognised tax agent association or recognised BAS agent association.

The Board has established a Committee, which will meet on 24 March 2010, to deal with applications from associations seeking recognition. The Board has determined that no Board member would assess any application submitted by an organisation for which they are a member.

The Chair advised that the Board is obliged, by the Tax Agent Services Regulations 2009 to publish a notice of the decision to recognise an association on the website.

A Forum member asked for further details about how an association could register as both a recognised tax agent association and recognised BAS agent association. The Chair advised that the purpose of recognition is to allow the Board to accredit professional associations for the purpose of recognising professional qualifications and experience that are relevant to the registration of individuals as either registered tax agents or BAS agents. The Chair also advised that the Board is currently considering this issue and will update the Forum as soon as possible.

A Forum member asked how an association could evidence their financial viability. The Chair indicated that this was a matter for the associations themselves, although providing audited financial statements may be of assistance to the Board.

Another Forum member asked how agents who are seeking registration should complete the application for registration form, given that the form asks applicants whether they are a member of a recognised tax agent or BAS agent association. As the Board has only started to receive applications for recognition and no decisions have yet been made, the Chair asked that Forum members not pre-empt the Board’s decision to recognise an association. However, to assist applicants for registration who would rely on their membership of an association, the Chair advised that applicants should continue to apply for registration, indicating that the recognition of their association is pending.

The Chair would communicate the Board’s view on this in an upcoming Chair’s message.

6. Complaints process

The Chair advised that the Board has a complaints service in place through the Office of the Secretary. The Chair highlighted that a specific form was available on the Board’s website for people to lodge a complaint against agent.

A Forum member raised the issue of complaints potentially being raised with multiple associations and the Board and whether it would be appropriate the sharing of information between the Board and the associations.

The Chair advised that the Board would need to consider this issue, but noted the constraints of the secrecy provisions and the need to exercise caution in relation to this.

7. Applications for approval of courses

The Chair advised that the Board had received a number of applications from organisations seeking approval of certain courses in particular basic GST/BAS taxation principles. The Chair advised that further consultations on the process to be adopted to handle the applications would be required.

The Chair noted that favourable consideration would be given to Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) registered courses.

The Chair also advised that the Board is considering whether transitional rules are needed for the Board approving a basic GST/BAS taxation principles course. The Chair recognised that this issue is a matter of priority for the BAS profession and that the Board would attempt to outline the process it is following to consult on such courses. The Chair noted that he hoped to provide further information in this area through his address at the Reckon Accredited Partner Conference on 19 March 2010 – this speech will be published on the Board’s website and distributed to the associations shortly after delivery of the speech.

A Forum member sought advice on how the associations could respond to queries from their members about the Board’s approach to approving courses. The Chair indicated that he would try to give such advice in due course and that Board consideration will be given to the issues as soon as possible. 

8. Continuing Professional Development

A Forum member sought the Board’s approach to continuing professional development (CPD). The Chair advised that the Board had not publicised its position on CPD, apart from what is contained in the Code of Professional Conduct.

The Chair advised that the Board may not accept less than what is currently required by associations for CPD, that is, a minimum of 15 hours. The Chair reiterated that the Board had yet to fully consider this issue.

9. Financial Planners

Forum members raised the issue of coverage of financial planners in the new regime.

The Chair advised that there is no Board position on this issue at this stage as the Government is currently considering this issue.

10. Stand alone specialist tax practices

A Forum member asked how the registration and regulatory framework of the new regime would apply to stand-alone specialist tax practices.

The Chair advised that these registrations while convenient to be called specialist registrations, are simply standard registrations with conditions and therefore, no specific registration or regulatory framework for them existed as such.

The Forum also discussed whether conditional registrants should be required; in public statements about the services they provide, to state that their registration is conditional. A number of Forum members suggested that it should not be necessary because the entity is ultimately registered. The Chair advised that the Board is conscious of this issue and would take on board the comments made.

11. Professional indemnity insurance

The Chair noted that he, on behalf of the Board, had announced through a Media Release issued on 25 February 2010, that professional indemnity (PI) insurance coverage will be required by the Board from 1 July 2011 for registered agents.

The Chair advised that the Board is considering the issues, including minimum requirements and whether and, if so what, should be the nature of any exemptions.

A number of Forum members raised their concern with the 1 July 2011 start date for commencement of a Board requirement that agents have professional indemnity insurance cover. They were of the view that the lead time is too long and that the Board needs to consider transitional arrangements in the intervening period. The Chair noted the concern of some Forum members and advised he would report them to the Board.

The Chair advised that the Board’s PI Insurance requirement announcement did not yet amount to a legislative requirement and that it will take time to issue formal Guidelines on the issue through the required parliamentary processes for making legislative instruments. The Chair noted that the Board had said, and repeated, that those who have already taken out PI insurance are strongly encouraged to maintain it.

12. Other issues

Nominees

The Chair addressed a query from a Forum member about how the new regime would operate now that there are no longer nominees, only registered tax agents. In particular, the Chair was asked whether tax agents can still sign tax returns on behalf of the other registered tax agent which employs them.

The Chair and Secretary recognised that this was a question ultimately for the Tax Office. However, the Secretary advised that nominees should generally sign off on their company’s registration number rather than their own registration number as it is the company itself that is charging the fees.

Categories of specialist registration

At the preliminary Forum on 20 January 2010, the Board indicated that it recognised that there would be a number of categories of specialist registrations. Forum members also suggested additional categories that could be considered as specialist registrations.

A Forum member also asked whether two further categories, being R&D and transfer pricing, be added to the list in the draft preliminary Forum Report and whether the Board intended to issue a list of finalised categories to assist with registration processes within tax practices.

The Chair advised that the Board would take on the suggestion of including R&D and transfer pricing as specialist categories. The Chair also advised that he would raise with the Board the appropriateness of issuing a list with final categories of specialist registrations.

Fees

The Chair addressed an issue which had been raised by a Forum member about the cost implications of registration fees, with increasing fees in certain circumstances where multiple registrations are needed in the same practice.

The Chair advised that the Board would look at this issue, however he noted that it was a policy issue for Treasury and the Board will need to write to Treasury to notify them of this concern.

13. Close of Meeting

The Chair thanked everyone for attending the meeting.

The Forum agreed to meet again on Tuesday, 18 May 2010, in Canberra at the new Board premises.