Friday, April 23, 2010

The Tax Office has set up a hotline to get around its hotline!

If you really need a tax return the Tax Office can do it for you in 90 minutes. And there's a special phone number that will make sure you are able to talk to a human being. Tax Commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo revealed both in evidence to the parliament's Public Accounts and Audit committee yesterday, saying 3200 people had received the express refunds since the new Tax Office computer began holding everything up in January.

"We manually process them to get them through quickly," he said. "One we did in one and a half hours."

"If people say they desperately need it we take that at face value."

For people in real hardship who can't through on the Tax Office inquiry line there's another number they can call to schedule a time for a tax officer to phone them back. "It might be at night, we've got people working then," said Second Commissioner Jennie Granger. Asked to reveal the number, she said it was 1800 150150...

As many as one million tax returns have been delayed by the slowdown that began when the Tax Office switched over to a new computer in July.

Only about 188,000 returns were still running late and things would be back to normal in May.

Second Commissioner David Butler said many of those complaining about late refunds should have got their tax in earlier.

"Self preparers should have filed by October," he said. "We encouraged tax agents to file by Christmas, we made it clear we could not process returns at all through the whole of January."

The Tax office was also suffering in part because of its previously efficient service.

"Tax agents are quite used to getting refunds on electronic returns within 2 or 3 days even though our service standard is 14 days. We had effectively eight weeks in which we coulnd't process returns," said Mr Butler.

Taxpayers who receive returns more than 30 days late will be paid interest, but at a comparatively miserly rate. The Tax Office revealed that it pays interest at 4 per cent, but charges interest to taxpayers who are late at 11.6 per cent.

"We don't set those rates," said Mr Butler. "It's a statutory formula. And the amount is not significant."

"The average refund at this time of year is $2600. If we are more than 30 days late that's $7.50 in interest."

"When the dust settles we will go back and check that everyone got the right interest."

Mr D'Ascenzo welcomed this week's announcement of a independent inquiry into the delays, saying it would be a chance to explain the Tax Office's predicament.

"I'm not sure what you do," he said. "When you close a road to improve it for the future, you say - look, there are going to be delays."

Published in today's SMH and Age 

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