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You open the mail. You owe us $422,030.64 says the ATO. What??

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Imagine this. You arrive home from work. You’re a freelance consultant; an engineer or maybe an IT specialist currently doing work for a bank. Even an aged care worker or a plumber! You’re one of the 2 million plus self-employed people in Australia, one of the new breed of entrepreneurial ‘gig’ economy workers, so the commentators say!

A month ago you had a phone chat with a couple of seemingly friendly ATO officers who had queries about how you work and your tax returns. You were open and honest. Nothing to hide! Pretty simple really?

There’s a letter. You open it. It’s 18 pages of confusing Tax Office bureaucratic blabbering. Somehow you’re accused of tax fraud/evasion. You struggle to understand. But one thing hits you. It’s a demand to pay $422,030.64 for taxes going back 10 years, with 50% penalties and interest!

This can happen to anyone. It happens constantly. It happened to Rod Douglass, 55, a consultant in Perth. You might remember we’ve been helping Rod defend himself.

Rod has given us permission to publish the letter he received in July 2015. Here it is.

We defy you to understand the accusations. We’re publishing this because it’s important to understand how the ATO behaves. We consider the processes used by the ATO against self-employed people amount to bullying and intimidation. There’s no fairness here!

In defending Rod, the matter went to the Federal Court in November 2016. Then the ATO withdrew, saying they’d made an error. You’re joking! Seventeen months of legal firepower for the ATO to admit an error!

Then there’s this. Another letter, this one in March 2017. This time it’s 12 pages of ATO blather. Here it is. It’s essentially ATO running the same issue, and ignoring its 2016 admission of error. This time we defy you to work out how much the ATO is demanding.  

We’re helping Rod again.

To be clear. This is not a matter of Rod not paying his taxes. He has consistently declared all income and paid taxes. The issue is over highly technical interpretations of tax law relating to how income of self-employed people should be treated. The ATO ‘forms opinions’ which are legally suspect, then attacks aggressively.

Our position is that the ATO must comply with the law, just as taxpayers comply with the law. In this article by Robert Gottliebsen (published today in The Australian) he says:
…  in the Douglass process the Australian tax office is graphically showing it can pick out any professional in Australia who is operating in partnership and bankrupt them because they can’t afford to defend themselves.

We agree. That’s why we need an independent Tax Tribunal.


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