ATO affirms importance of independent review service for small businesses to help resolve disputes

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has today affirmed its commitment to assisting small businesses resolve their taxation disputes. Following a successful multi-year pilot, the ATO’s small business independent review service will be offered permanently as a dispute resolution option for eligible small businesses.

The ATO’s service ensures eligible small businesses have an additional opportunity to resolve a dispute with the ATO in a cost-effective and time-efficient way.

Since the pilot program started in 2018, more than 1,200 small businesses have been offered the service and more than 180 small businesses have taken up the ATO’s offer.

ATO Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Geale said the service is all about ensuring small businesses are given the opportunity to achieve an independent, fast, free, and fair resolution when they disagree with the ATO’s audit position.

“Independence is critical when handling a dispute, so we ensure each and every independent review is done by an officer from a different part of the ATO who was not involved in the original audit”, Mr Geale said.

“Small businesses who participated in our pilot told us they found the process to be fair and independent, irrespective of the independent review outcome, so this is a great result, and is a big part of why we are locking this service in permanently.”

Mr Geale clarified that taxpayers can request in-house facilitation at any stage of a dispute with the ATO and that the independent review occurs prior to the ATO issuing an amended assessment and any resulting debt being raised.

Australia is the only jurisdiction that provides so many dispute resolution options to small business taxpayers, allowing them to be heard at audit, independent review, objection, Court or Tribunal (with appeal rights and Tribunal funding).

The ATO’s decision to transition the pilot to business as usual is consistent with recent recommendations made by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

The ATO’s small business independent review service is available to eligible small businesses in addition to other dispute options, for example, lodging an objection, in-house facilitation, or by taking the matter up with the Inspector General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman or the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

The service is available for eligible small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $10 million in relation to disputes about income tax, GST, excise, luxury car tax, wine equalisation tax, and fuel tax credits. Disputes about employer obligations like superannuation and fringe benefits tax are not eligible for the independent review service.

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