IPA keeps ATO outage issue on the table

ATO system outages are still an issue affecting practitioners, leading the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) to consider pursuing compensation should the problems continue.

“The ATO negotiated compensation from Hewlett Packard Enterprise in relation to the December and February outages via an out-of-court settlement, so they were compensated for some of the impacts, but unfortunately for the users, there was nothing in the wind other than an apology,” IPA technical policy general manager Tony Greco told selfmanagedsuper.

“We wouldn’t be saying compensation is warranted if it was a one-off instance because we understand that things can sometimes go wrong as isolated cases, et cetera; it must be looked at from the perspective of many outages and causing real productivity losses.

“It’s an ongoing saga.”

Last week, in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, ATO commissioner Chris Jordan said: “As you may know, the lead-up to this tax time has been different to years past, with the ATO experiencing unprecedented and unplanned outages in December, February and just last week.

“These outages were highly unusual and disruptive for the users of our systems, particularly the tax profession, and the superannuation and software industries.

“I wish I could give an iron-clad guarantee that all systems will work 100 per cent of the time, but that is not reality when you are talking about very large and complex systems.

“And while we believe we have done everything we can, and expect things will go smoothly, we are ready to respond quickly if there are any hiccups or unexpected outages.”

Jordan added the ATO also had an independent analysis of its entire IT infrastructure, platforms and services underway to identify and reduce the risks of future unplanned outages.

The regulator was well aware that if it offered and encouraged the use of digital systems, then it had to have its systems available when users needed them, he said.

Greco said: “An hour after that speech, the system went down again, so it’s still ongoing and still an issue causing productivity losses and reputational damage for small practitioners.

“Unfortunately we’re still getting hiccups; how much more is a good question.

“We will keep the compensation issue alive and well, especially if there are more outages as there should be something more substantive than another apology.”

Alternative avenues for the IPA included the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT) and the government, he revealed.

“The Inspector-General in the past has recommended compensation in relation to past mishaps and I believe it’s the finance minister or assistant treasurer’s call at the end of the day,” he said.

“The IPA is also asked to attend various parliamentary committees, so we can voice our concerns there as well.

“So there are other options, but we have already been very vocal as far as relaying concerns and messages from our members.”

In March during the IPA Victoria Congress in Creswick, IGT Ali Noroozi said compensation was certainly a route practitioners could take whereby the independent statutory agency, which reviews systemic issues at the ATO, could produce a report with recommendations to reimburse those affected.

However, the office of the IGT requires a critical mass.

“To date, the level of complaints to my office about the outages does not warrant that kind of action, but if it does get really bad, yes, it’s possible,” Noroozi said at the time.

In response, the IPA sent a stakeholder impact statement to the IGT for its  inquiry into the future of the tax profession. The submission period closes on 31 July.

In June, the ATO released a report into the system outages outlining what happened to its IT systems and the impact on its stakeholders.

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