Australia’s tax law system is administered by the Australian Tax Office (ATO). It generally works on a self-assessment model where the ATO accepts the claims you make in your tax return or activity statement, usually without adjustment, then it works out, or assesses, your tax liability. The ATO then has the power to check compliance through a review or audit. When you have a self-assessment model, it is inevitable that disputes will arise between taxpayers and the ATO. This is especially so when the taxing acts and regulations are complemented by many rulings, determinations and practice statements.
Let’s start with an example – you are selling a business. The contract contains a provision that the sale is the “sale of a going concern” which does not attract GST. You complete the sale believing that it qualifies as the “sale of a going concern” but the ATO subsequently conducts a review or audit and decides that the sale did not qualify as a “sale of a going concern” and requires you to remit GST on the sale price. What can you do?
Firstly, the ATO has an internal review process that you can use if you disagree with a decision that has been made about your tax affairs. This involves the decision being reviewed by an ATO officer not involved in the original decision. Secondly, if you are not satisfied with the outcome of the internal review you may have a right to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or the Federal Court for an external review. The AAT and Federal Court work differently. Our tax lawyers Perth can advise you on those differences so you can make an informed decision about whether to seek an external review in the AAT or the Federal Court.
Paul Fletcher is a particularly experienced tax lawyer. Paul initially worked at the ATO and has since acted for clients in numerous tax disputes with the ATO, including internal and external review stages. Paul has a detailed understanding of the taxing regime and a proven track record of obtaining successful outcomes for clients. He has recently assisted clients with disputes with the ATO in relation to:
- the applicability of the GST margin scheme to particular land transactions
- the deductibility of certain business expenses
- the deductibility of donations to a religious organisation
When the ATO issues amended assessments, it is not uncommon for the ATO to impose administrative penalties and/or a General Interest Charge (GIC). Even if you are not successful in having the decision overturned, there may be grounds for you to seek a remission of those administrative penalties and/or GIC. Our tax lawyers Perth can advise you as to whether any such grounds exist and assist you to make any necessary submissions to the ATO. We can also advise you about the applicability of the safe harbour provisions where you have relied on a tax agent to prepare your return.