"When it comes to small business debt, our focus is on preventing it.": ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
The Tax Office is launching a web-chat service, called “click to chat”, so small business owners can talk to the regulator directly, in a bid to cut costs.
Tax commissioner Chris Jordan will announce the initiative on Friday at the national small business summit in Melbourne. It’s part of the Tax Office’s wider efforts to improve its dealings with small business and reduce paperwork.
The agency is increasingly relying on taxpayers to self-assess – in other words do the right thing – rather than launch lengthy and costly audits of business.
In 2012 almost 6000 small business taxpayers were falsely accused of doing the wrong thing by the Tax Office as part of its crackdown on the cash economy.
And Tax Office debt, about 60 per cent is owed by small businesses, continues to soar. It rose to almost $18 billion in 2012-13.
“When it comes to small business debt, our focus is on preventing it – understanding what drives and creates debt as well as how we can work with you to get you out of debt,” Mr Jordan said.
Small businesses are moving from paper to digital activity statements over the coming months. Mr Jordan said this was a “new business-friendly approach to managing debt”.
The move to reduce paperwork also results in a greater cost saving for the tax man, which is facing massive funding cuts under the Abbott government.
The Tax Office has already had 3000 job cuts, and is set to lose another 1500 in the next few years.
Mr Jordan said small businesses that “get into trouble”, should contact the Tax Office. “We can work with you to find a solution that suits your circumstances,” he said. “Making life easier for small business is a priority for the ATO.”
He said the agency was working to reduce call centre wait times, provide consistent advice, reduce technical jargon and facilitate quick access to business portals from mobile phones and tablets.
The Tax Office is also launching an online news service which business can subscribe to and get relevant news from the ATO. “It is a move away from multiple newsletters, giving you a one-stop online shop where you get tax and superannuation news and alerts,” he said.
It is also offering a new technology called standard business reporting that encourages business to move to digital networks, by integrating with business and accounting software. “It allows computers to talk to each other, eliminating the need to fill in some forms and reports,” Mr Jordan said.
He said the Tax Office had invited small business owners to join a new panel in the Tax Office that would work at solving their issues. “The panel continues to grow and there are now 100 small business owners registered to help us on an ‘as needs’ basis,” he said.
In addition there was “small business fix-it squads” - groups made up of small business operators - looking at solutions for small business problems. The next fix-it squad will examine ways to help small business when changing legal structuring from a sole trader to a small proprietary company, he said.