National

ATO gets out of the compliance business

The Australian Taxation Office is changing the name of its tax-enforcement operation the Compliance Group because it no longer reflects the ATO's 'mindset'.

The Australian Taxation Office is changing the name of its tax-enforcement operation to the  "Client Engagement Group".
The Australian Taxation Office is changing the name of its tax-enforcement operation to the "Client Engagement Group". Photo: Louie Douvis

Instead, the newly named, "Client Engagement Group" will focus on "an earlier, more purposeful and respectful approach" to making sure taxpayers pay up.

The ATO insists the newly named business group will be no soft touch though, issuing a statement on Tuesday morning, saying that tax-dodgers would still be pursued for audits and criminal prosecutions.

"For people who deliberately avoid their tax and superannuation obligations, we will continue to take strong and determined action including review, audit and criminal prosecution," the statement said.

Not everyone is excited about the change with one workplace union saying it fears the move will lead to tax dodgers regarding the ATO as a joke.

The ATO has been criticised in recent years for its tough approach to debt collection, which is done by a separate business unit to compliance, and the perception the office is more aggressive in pursuit of small businesses than large businesses

But announcing the change to the less threatening name on Monday second taxation commissioner Neil Olesen​ told his agency's public servants that these were exciting times to be working in the tax office.

"Over the last few years, we've worked hard to improve the tax and super experience for our clients, our staff and our partners," Mr Olesen wrote.

"We've embraced more sophisticated and contemporary ways of working, measuring and planning, taken an earlier, more purposeful and respectful approach to client engagement, and sought to resolve disputes sensibly and efficiently. 

"In this new environment, the name of the Compliance Group no longer fully represents our new mindset, the breadth of work we undertake, nor the kind of relationships we're trying to build with our clients.

"We need a new name that better reflects our purpose and new direction.

"So from today, the Compliance Group will be known as the Client Engagement Group."

Mr Olesen said the name-change had been agreed upon after talking to taxpayers and his own public servants.

"We've agreed on this name following input from clients and staff.

"I think it captures well and simply our client-focus, and emphasises how important quality relationships are in shaping future compliance – from our support and assistance work, our advice, all the way through to audits and investigations.

But the Australian Service Union is not impressed, with union official Jeff Lapidos​ saying he feared the "Client Engagement group might not be taken seriously by tax-dodgers.  

"The new name suggests the Commissioner's approach to ensuring compliance with the tax laws is making a joke of the ATO amongst those taxpayers who seek to minimise their payment of tax," Mr Lapidos said.

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