Do you know who to turn to when you have a complaint about the ATO? Whether you’re an individual or business, the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) should be your first port of call. The department has two distinct, yet intertwined, functions.

As the Taxation Ombudsman, the IGTO provides all taxpayers with an independent complaints investigation service. One of the main roles of the IGTO is that it must investigate complaints by taxpayers (or their representatives) where a tax official’s actions or inactions, decisions or systems have affected them personally. As the Inspector-General of Taxation, it also conducts reviews and provides independent advice and recommendations to government, ATO and other departments.

The difference between the two functions is that the Taxation Ombudsman’s investigations and recommendations are likely to be made privately, whereas when the office conducts reviews (not in response to a complaint) as the Inspector-General of Taxation, the investigations and recommendations are public and aimed at improving the administration of the tax law.

In the first quarter of 2019–2020 the IGTO received 909 complaints – a 14% increase over the number for the same period in 2018–2019. Of the complaints received so far this year, 82.4% of the complaints received were from self-represented individuals, of whom approximately 10-12% were small business taxpayers. Taxpayers who had a representative were largely represented by a family member or friend, although around a third were represented by an accountant or a tax practitioner.

The top five issues raised in complaints for the quarter remain largely the same as the previous year, covering debt collection, payments to the taxpayer, lodgement and processing, communication, and audit and review. According to the IGTO, issues surrounding debt collection have featured consistently among the complaints lodged since the assumption of the Tax Ombudsman service.

While the IGTO has direct access to ATO officers, records and systems, it cannot investigate how much tax needs to be paid, provide advice regarding structure of tax affairs or assist with decisions made by other government agencies apart from the Tax Practitioners Board. The IGTO can investigate and assist taxpayers with issues including:

  • extensions of time to pay;
  • the ATO’s debt recovery action;
  • delays with processing tax returns;
  • delays in ATO communication and responses;
  • information the ATO has considered regarding taxpayers’ matters;
  • understanding the ATO’s actions and decisions; and
  • identifying available options and other relevant agencies that can help.

Taxpayers can approach the IGTO at any stage of their dispute with the ATO, although it is recommended that they first approach the ATO officer/manager assigned to their case, followed by the ATO complaints section, before lodging a formal IGTO complaint.

Complaints can be made online and via phone or post, and services are offered in languages other than English as well as for people who are hearing, sight or speech impaired. The IGTO will require:

  • basic personal information including the taxpayer’s tax file number (TFN);
  • the main facts, relevant dates and supporting documents;
  • an explanation of how ATO actions have caused concern and how those actions have affected the taxpayer; and
  • information about what the taxpayer or their representative has done to try to resolve the complaint, the result to date, and the desired outcome from the complaint.