ATO offers independent review service to SMEs on a permanent basis

Dispute resolution

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced that its small business independent review service will be offered permanently as a dispute resolution option for eligible small businesses.

This follows after a successful multi-year pilot of the service that began in 2018 for small businesses to help resolve their taxation disputes in a cost-effective and time-efficient way.

ATO Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Geale said that the service would ensure that small businesses are given an opportunity to achieve an independent, fast, free, and fair resolution when they disagree with the ATO’s audit findings.

“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”, 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.”

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.

The ATO also pointed out that Australia is the only jurisdiction that provides a variety of 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 move has been welcomed by the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Brice Billson, who said that it will give small businesses a fairer go.

“The ATO’s small business independent review service is a crucial part of ASBFEO’s vision of a tax system that works for the small business sector, so businesses can achieve greater productivity, return to profitability and grow employment,” Billson said.

“This ATO service marks an important contribution to a supportive environment which is needed now more than ever as small businesses recover from an incredibly tough 12 months.”

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.