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TPB COVID-19 Consultative Forum report - 24 March 2020

TPB COVID-19 Consultative forum report – 24 March 2020

Thank you for joining Ian Klug (Chair), Michael O’Neill (CEO / Secretary), Julie Berry (Board member) and fellow Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) colleagues at a specially convened teleconference on 24 March 2020 to discuss COVID-19 impacts on tax practitioners. 

We appreciate your valuable input to this Forum and have produced a summary of key messages from the TPB. We appreciate you sharing these messages with your membership.


Supportive pragmatic approach

  • The TPB recognises that tax practitioners are working hard for their clients and have other priorities in this difficult time. The TPB is continuing to provide support and be pragmatic. We encourage tax practitioners to contact the TPB if they are encountering difficulties in meeting their TPB obligations so that we can consider their individual circumstances and work with them to find an appropriate outcome. 
  • The TPB is continuing its relevant preparatory work, including following government directions, reviewing scenarios and business continuity planning. TPB staff have been encouraged to work from home. However, we will endeavour to continue to provide high levels of service to tax practitioners.


Annual declaration lodgement

Tax practitioners who have an annual declaration due on or before 31 December 2020 will not be required to submit that annual declaration. This means that these tax practitioners will next need to complete their annual declaration in 2021 or 2022 (if they are required to renew their registration in 2021).


Registration renewals

  • Affected tax practitioners with a renewal application due in the coming months and that are unable to lodge their renewal application before their registration expires, should contact the TPB so that we can discuss their situation and make appropriate arrangements if required. We will work with them to ensure that they remain registered and continue to have access to the ATO’s online services. 
  • This messaging applies equally to the transitional tax (financial) advisers required to lodge a renewal application in 2020.


Continuing professional education (CPE) requirements

  • Due to the reduction in face-to-face CPE opportunities, the TPB is temporarily relaxing its requirement in relation to the professional reading cap in the TPB’s CPE policy. The current 25% cap for relevant technical / professional reading activity is temporarily being removed immediately for the next 6 months (until the end of September 2020). We will review our approach as the COVID-19 matters evolve.
  • However, to take advantage of the removal of the cap you must:
    • first and foremost, explore and undertake online CPE offerings (as these online activities are becoming more readily available)
    • keep a CPE log detailing all the CPE activities undertaken. 
  • It is important to note that while this 25% professional reading cap has been temporarily lifted, all other elements of the TPB’s CPE requirements still apply, including:
    • the number of CPE hours you must complete over a three-year registration period
    • the minimum number of CPE hours you are required to undertake annually
    • undertaking activities relevant to the services you are registered to provide. 


Exam requirements for Board approved courses

  • The TPB requires that at least 40% of the total assessment for a Board approved course be completed under some form of independent supervision. This requires assessments to be conducted under the supervision of an invigilator.
  • Due to the recent impact of COVID-19, the TPB has reviewed this policy. In cases where supervised assessments cannot be conducted in line with the TPB's existing requirements, the following guidance is provided to all approved course providers.
  • These arrangements will remain in place at least for the current study period (semester/trimester).
  • The TPB will continue to monitor the situation and approved course providers will be notified of any policy changes should they occur. In particular, the policy will be updated to reflect any alternative arrangements approved by the Board under Option 3.
  • This policy applies to all current Board approved courses. As appropriate, the TPB will update its proposed guidelines on Board approved courses to reflect this policy. 

Option 1

Where possible and practicable, the TPB’s preferred option is for an alternate assessment to be conducted either remotely (physically at a location) or through online invigilation (remotely proctored) under the following conditions:

  1. The alternate assessment assesses the same learning outcomes as the invigilated assessment would have.
  2. The alternate assessment meets the TPB’s requirements regarding independent supervision. This means the remote or online invigilation is conducted through some form of live invigilation in terms of supervisory oversight.
  3. The approved course provider maintains a record of all individuals completing an alternate assessment through remote or online invigilation.
  4. The alternate assessment has the same weighting as the invigilated assessment.
  5. The alternate assessment continues to meet TEQSA or ASQA guidelines.

 
Option 2

Where Option 1 does not offer a practicable solution for approved course providers, the TPB will accept alternate assessments supervised through software driven invigilation (including utilising anti-plagiarism software). The software must offer authentication of candidates, coupled with a level of invigilation that can detect potential breaches of assessment conditions.

Further, under Option 2, the approved course provider is expected to meet the conditions set out in Option 1, other than the requirement regarding independent supervision.

 
Option 3

For approved course providers who are unable to meet the requirements of Option 1 or Option 2, the TPB will consider the use of other alternative assessment arrangements on a case by case basis.

Further, under Option 3, the approved course provider is expected to meet the conditions set out in Option 1, other than the requirement regarding independent supervision.

For consideration of alternative assessment arrangements under Option 3, contact CourseProvider [at] tpb.gov.au and ensure that your email includes the following information:

  1. Outline of alternative assessment arrangement.
  2. Details of how the alternative assessment arrangement meets the conditions set out in Option 1 (other than the requirement regarding independent supervision).
  3. Numbers of students impacted or expected to be impacted. 
  4. Any other relevant information.

The TPB will consider submissions as a matter of priority and notify you of the outcome as soon as possible. 


Compliance approach update

  • The TPB recognises the important role it has in being an effective regulator that supports community confidence in tax system integrity, noting that its objective is to ensure practitioner services are provided to public in accordance with appropriate standards of professional and ethical conduct. We will continue to support the majority of practitioners who do the right thing and continue to ensure consideration of particular circumstances, while also recalibrating activity to target the highest risk practitioners (such as fraud, black economy casework, and any scams that may escalate following recent stimulus package measures). We will also address complaints and referrals that are raised and will continue to investigate matters as appropriate.
  • We have around 600 compliance matters under consideration at present, ranging from complaint resolution and preliminary enquiries through to formal investigations (including joint investigations with the ATO). It is recognised that examination might be disrupted because practitioners have other priorities and because of other conditions such as social distancing, office closures, and travel and system access restrictions. We will be contacting practitioners in relevant circumstances to determine the best way to proceed and make relevant accommodations where appropriate, such as exercising a discretion to extend the 6-month investigation period, due to matters beyond the control of the TPB. 


ATO update

  • The ATO’s Forum representative Adam Kendrick briefly outlined key ATO messages, including from the recent Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group meeting on 19 March 2020. In particular, the following was noted:
    • The ATO has specific COVID-19 information on its website.
    • Deferrals and active payment arrangements will be considered on a case by case basis, with staff being empathetic and understanding and considering particular circumstances in working with tax and BAS agents. Relevant feedback about further streamlining of processes is being considered.
    •  Additional staff have been provided in the ATO call centres and a temporary email address COVID-19Taxissues [at] ato.gov.au established to facilitate consideration of relevant concerns that have not already been covered.

 

Feedback from Forum members 

Forum members were very supportive of the measures the TPB is putting in place to assist tax practitioners during this difficult time and the following comments were noted: 

  • It should be recognised that tax practitioners are being impacted by the COVID-19 matters and it is important for there to be flexibility in how the TPB deals with them.
  • In addition to the issues raised by the TPB, the TPB needs to consider extenuating circumstances, such as mental health issues, that may be obvious immediately and rather present themselves months, or even later, down the track.
  • The TPB needs to be reviewing its requirements regularly to accommodate for the evolving situation. For example, whether in the future the required hours of CPE need to be reviewed. 
  • If tax practitioners are faced with undue pressure by their clients, they need to remain mindful of their obligations under the Tax Agent Services Act 2009.
  • It is important for the TPB to clearly communicate its expectations in a timely fashion. 


Next meeting

The Chair thanked forum members for the continuing and constructive feedback and noted that TPB will consider all comments raised for consideration.

It was confirmed that the regular TPB Consultative and Financial Adviser Forum meeting is being rescheduled and that members will be advised as soon as possible. Other forums may be held on an exception basis as required.


Last modified: 25 March 2020