The report rightly acknowledges the day to day reliance which taxpayers and tax professionals have on ATO systems. The Head of Tax at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, Michael Croker, noted that the ATO’s reputation as a lead government agency in the provision of government online services meant that it had to get on the front foot in responding to the outage.
“The report frankly acknowledges a number of contributing factors to the outage and the learnings subsequently taken on-board by senior ATO management. This openness is totally appropriate from an agency which expects transparency from taxpayers.”
Chartered Accountants will focus particularly on that part of the ATO report dealing with “Stakeholder impact” Mr Croker said.
“We wrote to the ATO in January 2017 suggesting there should be a published minimum service standard vis-à-vis the ATO and users of ATO online systems which, if breached by the ATO, triggers automatic no detriment procedures rather than relying on the ATO to ameliorate on a case by case basis.”
Mr Croker noted the ATO comment that “improved or tighter service standards are increasingly common in digital commercial transactions” but said Chartered Accountants did not agree with the ATO’s follow-up comment: “Against this option was the recognition that our systems are generally provided to stakeholders free of charge and therefore in distinction to commercial IT provision”.
Mr Croker said government and government agencies needed to regard their online service platforms as a public good which needed to be designed, built and operated to acceptable standards. “That is especially true if the Australian community have no choice but to deal with their government online”.
Mr Croker welcomed the ATO’s willingness to develop a shared understanding of the ATO’s business continuity and disaster recovery plans (Recommendation 4.3). “Like the ATO, tax professionals and their clients also need to undertake such planning and it’s good to see this being done in a collaborative way.”
“Disaster planning has a trickle-down effect. If we get the ATO-tax adviser piece right, tax agents can then work with their clients on how to respond to things like IT-caused delays in obtaining tax refunds”.
Mr Croker also noted Recommendation 1.2 in the report: “The ATO’s IT strategy continues to prioritise government reforms, aligns with corporate objectives and has an ongoing focus for a successful implementation of Tax Time 2017”.
“The outages disrupted an ATO work program which promised to provide tax and BAS agents with greater access to ATO data and functions. Now that systems rectification has largely been achieved and the ATO is in a position to promise a good Tax Time 2017 experience, tax practitioners will be keen to understand when these enhancements can be prioritised and progressed.”