House Committee suggests 'staggering users' to help ATO handle peak loads

Rather than chiding the ATO for not being able to deal with taxpayers looking to use its systems at busy times, a House Committee has suggested that users stagger themselves.

As users of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) myTax site know from experience, the service has historically not dealt well with a large influx of taxpayers looking to lodge tax returns as soon as the filing window opens.

A novel solution to the problem has been suggested in the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue's 2015 Annual Report of the Australian Taxation Office, and it is not a technical one. Rather, it is a social engineering fix.

"As more taxpayers use myTax, there will be a greater danger of system overload as peak times become more pronounced, as was experienced last year," the report said.

"If there is a possibility of such overload, a public education campaign might be desirable, suggesting that people stagger their returns."

The committee said it was clear there was concern about the operation and introduction of technology introduced by the ATO, and suggested the retirement date of the ATO's existing electronic lodgement system be extended beyond March 2017 if necessary.

"There is continuing frustration with problems which the ATO says are fixed, and there are misgivings about future developments which may be brought online before they are ready," the report said.

"The committee suggests that caution and rigorous assessment should be employed before the old lodgement system is closed down, noting that some elements of the new system were still under development in February, and that implementation timetables for new technology projects have often been optimistic."

The report said the use of the government's myGov portal by the ATO to communicate with individual taxpayers resulted in some notices not being seen.

"The ATO has conceded that it did not fully take account of the ramifications when it linked individual electronic lodgements to myGov," it said.

"The ATO says that it has addressed this issue by ensuring that an email is sent to taxpayers alerting them to new material in their myGov account.

"It is not able to send the material direct to their email address because of the possibility of scams, and myGov provides a secure way of communicating."

The committee recommended the ATO make a public statement of its timetable to transition to its new tax platform, and said it would be interested in any benchmark comparison between the ATO and similar organisations on rolling out new technology.

For 2016, the ATO's veteran electronic lodgement application for individuals, e-Tax, will be retired in favour of the myTax platform.

The e-tax application, which was launched in 1999, was initially only compatible with Windows, but was then made available for Apple's OS X from 2013.

In 2013, it was revealed in figures released exclusively to ZDNet that the software had cost Australian taxpayers over AU$45 million to develop and maintain since 2006.

In the Australian Federal Budget announced earlier this week, a taskforce within the ATO was established to crack down on multinational tax avoidance.

Among with other measures, including a UK-style Diverted Profits Tax, or "Google Tax", the government expects to raise almost AU$4 billion over four years.

"Those seeking to do the wrong thing will be left with no doubt that deliberate tax avoidance and evasion will not be tolerated," Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement. "Tax cheats will be tracked down and will face the full force of the law."