ATO insiders allege revenue drive
ATO whistle-blowers have alleged the department is revenue-driven and targets small businesses that are less likely to complain.
The claims of a toxic internal culture have been raised in a joint ABC and Fairfax investigation this week.
ATO debt collection officer Richard Boyle told reporters that staff are regularly told to issue high numbers of ‘garnishee notices’, which force banks to siphon some of the money given to individuals and business accounts to the ATO.
The notices allow money to be taken from a taxpayer’s account without their knowledge, and typically require the bank to keep sending money to the Tax Office whenever money is deposited in the account.
Mr Boyle said that in a cash grab towards the end of the last financial year, he and other staff were “instructed quite clearly and categorically to start issuing standard garnishees on every case” that had been assessed to owe the ATO money, regardless of the account holder’s personal circumstances.
“The motivation appeared to be that we were just collecting revenue before the end of the financial year and it didn’t matter if we hurt members of the community,” he said.
The Tax Office has suspended Mr Boyle without pay and reportedly plans to sack him. Additionally, his house was raided last week.
Former senior ATO employee Ron Shamir has told reporters that his office had revenue targets too.
He said staff often referred to “The Plan”: estimates of how much revenue the Tax Office would collect in the forthcoming financial year.
“It’s an estimate given to government, so that it can plan and know how much tax revenue is to be collected,” Mr Shamir said.
“It then cascades down to various tax office branches and becomes a target of what they will be collecting in revenue for that financial year.”
Mr Shamir says pressure to fulfil ‘The Plan’ could lead officers to seek shortcuts and easy targets.
“You would be looking at taxpayers who are less able to resist the might of the Tax Office. Taxpayers that are more vulnerable, and that often meant individuals and small businesses rather than larger businesses who had less legal resources,” he said.
Mr Shamir was sacked in mid-2015 for non-performance.
ATO spokesperson Deborah Jenkins denied the agency is driven by revenue.
“We don’t have a focus on the revenue collection,” she said.
“It’s a really important part of what we do, we can’t let aside the fact that we are a revenue authority, but for me it’s actually really important if we want people to willingly participate in our system… That’s why our focus is on education, prevention, and support, and I’ve got a huge part of my team is actually dedicated to doing that work.”