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 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 access the government support 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 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 lodgments following a busy year spent helping clients navigate through the challenges caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

Blanket lodgment deferrals were a sore spot for accounting professionals last year, with the professional accounting bodies unable to persuade the ATO to defer due dates to the end of the financial year. Despite this, the ATO agreed not to apply late lodgment penalties and assured tax agents that they would not lose access to the lodgment 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 provide additional time for annual, quarterly, and monthly obligations.

Agent-assessed deferrals will be automatically approved by the 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 lodgment due date.

The impact of covid-19 on the ATO’s lodgment 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, which was lower than the previous year and the ATO’s target.

Mental Health Training For Accounting Professionals

The Counting on U Program, a new mental health initiative 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 in February.

Close to 5,000 members of these associations can benefit from the newly announced mental health training developed by Deakin University, in collaboration with Beyond Blue, WorkSafe Victoria, Mental Health First Aid Australia, and the IPA.

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

This training will be crucial for advisers helping businesses deal with the end of JobKeeper, as many face long-term financial problems often accompanied by mental health difficulties.

Through the training, accountants will learn not only how to recognize the signs of mental health issues but also how to start a conversation with concerned clients and assist with professional help referrals.

Accountants who undertook the training during the pilot phase have praised its effectiveness, stating it helped them identify clients in need and provide support through behavior, speech, and empathy.