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The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has launched a new concierge style service to assist tax practitioners with their lodgment program as it resists calls to apply a blanket deferral in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic.

The ATO announced that tax practitioners still affected by the impacts of covid-19 can now request for help via a dedicated phone line linked to the tax agent lodgment program fast key code.

“For members of the tax profession who prefer to contact us via telephone, we have introduced a phone line that they can contact to seek a call back from our specialist team who will support them to put in place a tailored support arrangement” said a spokesperson for the ATO.

The ATO has advised that the phone number is 13 72 86, with fast key code 1 3 2.

It has been inspiring to see how so many tax professionals have stepped up to support Australians manage their taxes and help them with access the government support that is available to them over the course of the covid-19 pandemic.

Many tax agents have been doing it tough and have had difficulties managing their extra workload. The ATO has said that it wants to assure tax professionals that “the ATO is here to help agents who need some extra time to get on top of things”.

“If your whole practice has been affected by issues such as ill health, the loss of a key staff member, covid-19, or you are generally overwhelmed, we can work with you to co-design a supported lodgement program that helps get your lodgement program back on track” says a spokesperson for the ATO.

The support from the federal government comes as tax practitioners across Australia continue to fall behind on their lodgements following a busy year spent helping clients navigate through the challenges caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

Blanket lodgement deferrals were a sore spot for accounting professionals last year, with the professional accounting bodies unable to persuade the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to defer due dates to the end of the financial year. Despite this, the ATO agreed not to apply late lodgement penalties and assured tax agents that they would not lose access to the lodgement program if they failed to meet their 85 percent on-time requirement.

Tax practitioners experiencing extreme or unforeseen circumstances can also continue to apply for agent-assessed deferrals that will provide them with an additional four weeks for annual obligations, three weeks for quarterly obligations, and two weeks for monthly obligations.

They will be available for tax returns, except large and medium entities due on 15 January, tax returns for clients with a substituted accounting period, FBT returns, monthly and quarterly activity statements, annual GST returns, and PAYG payment summary annual reports.

Agent-assessed deferrals that meet the criteria will be automatically approved by the Australian Tax Office (ATO), although it may take up to 28 days for the updated due dates to be reflected in its systems.

These deferrals must be lodged no later than three business days after the lodgement due date.

The impact that covid-19 had on the ATO’s lodgement performance for the 2019–20 year was evident in the regulator’s annual report, with 74.6 percent of business activity statements lodged on time. This was 2.3 percent lower than the previous year and well short of the ATO’s target of 78 percent.

Mental Health Training For Accounting Professionals

The Counting on U Program, is a brand-new mental health initiative which has been made freely available to members of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, the Institute of Public Accountants, CPA Australia and the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, is now open for registration after a successful pilot phase took place in February.

It is estimated that close to 5,000 members of the peak accounting and bookkeeping associations will be able to benefit from the newly announced mental health training. The program, was developed by Deakin University who collaborated with Beyond Blue, WorkSafe Victoria, Mental Health First Aid Australia and the IPA.

The purpose of the program is to offer structured training to help accountants identify, manage and prevent various mental health conditions with their Small Medium Enterprise clients. The program aims to upskill over 5,000 practitioners with mental health first aid training by the end of 2021.

The new training program will be crucial for advisers helping businesses deal with the end of JobKeeper. Many businesses and families are staring down the barrel of long-term financial problems which can often go hand in hand with mental health difficulties.

Through the new training initiative, accountants will learn not only how to recognise the signs, but how to most importantly understand how to start a conversation with a client they are concerned about and to assist with referring them to seek professional help.

Accountants who have undertaken the training during the pilot phase have spoken of its praise. They have stated that undertaking the training has helped them identify clients in need, and how to provide support through their behaviour, speech and empathy.