The Tax Practitioners Board’s (TPB) decision to cancel the tax agent registration of Jennifer Clifford on the grounds she misled it and the ATO has been upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
Specifically, Clifford was found to have misled the TPB and ATO when she lodged the annual returns of several SMSFs without having the mandatory yearly audit of these funds performed.
Further, it was established she knew the audits had not been carried out for the SMSFs in question when the annual returns were lodged and had taken this action to prevent the ATO asking why she had not lodged her clients’ tax returns.
It was considered this misconduct put these SMSF members in risk of compliance breaches of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act and incurring significant penalties as a result.
The investigation into Clifford’s behaviour also confirmed she made false and misleading statements to the TPB on her renewal application by stating she had no outstanding amounts owing to the ATO when in fact she had an existing debt of this kind to the value of $145,000 with no payment plan in place.
“Ms Clifford did not prioritise her clients’ interests, she acted dishonestly and demonstrated she was not a fit and proper person to be registered as a tax agent. This type of egregious conduct will not go unnoticed by us. Especially at tax time, this AAT decision is a timely reminder to all tax practitioners who need to act honestly and uphold high professional standards,” TPB chair Peter de Cure noted.
“We have terminated Ms Clifford’s registration to protect the public and to safeguard confidence in the tax and super systems. We are continuing to proactively target these higher-risk tax practitioners who are driving non-compliance.”
AAT deputy president Ian Malloy recognised the extent of Clifford’s dishonesty.
“The applicant has not been open and honest in her evidence before the tribunal. Her conduct has exposed some of her clients to possible prosecution,” Molloy said.
“Even now she has not remedied some of these matters. I am not satisfied that this conduct will not be repeated or prolonged. I do not believe the applicant has demonstrated genuine contrition or remorse.”
While the AAT upheld the TPB’s decision to terminate Clifford’s tax agent registration, it reduced her non-application period from the original two years to 18 months due to the time she had already been deregistered.