Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expect a visit, with a locksmith, if you're hiding something from the Tax Office

The Tax Office has been given a "tick of approval" for continuing to break into homes, cars and workplaces where it believes documents are at risk of being destroyed.

The visits, which involve locksmiths and do not need court-issued warrants have received the all-clear from the Ombudsman after an investigation which his staff accompanied 100 tax officers on a coordinated raid on homes, cars and workplaces in four states.

Ombudsman John McMillan said at each site the officers flashed "wallet authorities" and provided provided the people they met with signed approvals and a brochure about tax law.

The officers were armed with lists of names, phone numbers and phrases to help identify documents and electronic records on computers and mobile phones...

"The ATO officers advised the building occupiers that they were under no obligation to answer any questions other than those regarding the location of the documents. The building occupiers elected to answer all questions freely," the report says.

Professor McMillan said the Tax Office took the use of its powers seriously and had established sound guidelines and manuals to assist its staff to apply the powers.

"This is the second Ombudsman investigation into the ATO’s access without notice powers in the past 10 years and it confirms that taxpayers can feel confident that the ATO is exercising these powers in the manner in which it should."

The Tax Office was unable to tell Professor McMillan how many raids it conducted each year saying it had kept "no central register of records in relation to the use of access powers".

It has undertaken to start collecting the information and publish it in its annual report.

An earlier Senate report found the ATO conducted as many as 280,000 raids without warrants yearly.

"This volume of monitoring activity could not be conducted under a warrant based system without a very large increase in resources or a substantial reduction in monitoring," it said. "This in turn would lead to losses in revenue."

Published in today's SMH and Age

UPDATE: 280,000 sounds far too high, but that's what the reports say.

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