Forewarned is forearmed.
Tax practitioners who plan to work over the Easter break need to gather their wits and their client files by Wednesday 12 April, before the ATO portal and access to all ATO systems shuts for full-scale maintenance at 10.00 (AEST) on 13 April. The systems resume on Tuesday 18 April at 6.00am.
While many accountants relish time off over the Easter break, not so smaller SMPs (small-to-medium practices) that use public holiday downtime to catch up, particularly Easter, which is at the tail end of several critical lodgement dates and thresholds.
Phil McCann FCPA, a director of a Melbourne SMP who also works closely with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) advisory committees, notes: “There are a lot of micro-tax accountants out there and they work all hours.
"These days with the cloud we can dial in from anywhere. That’s the life of a tax agent/accountant – we work all the time.
“My contact at the ATO tells me he receives emails from tax professionals at all times of the day and night,” adds McCann.
While he has the support of a fellow director and a team, and “hopes to be near a beach this Easter”, McCann says those of his colleagues who need to work will have to decide on their forward work plans ahead of time.
“In preparation, on the Wednesday practitioners are going to have to decide which clients’ taxes they will be preparing over the Easter break and download the reports.”
Growing reliance on the internet on the part of practitioners
The systems outage in December was acknowledged by ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan “as some of the worst unplanned system outages in recent memory”. This time around there’s no surprise, as the ATO has given notice that essential maintenance work needs to be done.
“At Christmas when it happened suddenly and we were caught out it was like three or four kicks to the shin. [While this new outage] is an impediment, it’s like stubbing your toe, not chopping your leg off,” says McCann.
“It’s essential maintenance and we have to suck it up and deal with it. I certainly don’t see it as a knife to the heart.”
Issues such as regulator shutdowns point to the larger issue for practitioners, which is their increasing reliance on the internet to conduct business.
CPA Q&A. Access a handpicked selection of resources each month and complete a short monthly assessment to earn CPD hours. Exclusively available to CPA Australia members.
“We are incredibly reliant on the web,” adds McCann. “And for whatever reason, be it when broadband problems happen, [sometimes] you simply can’t work. If something like that happens and we can’t access cloud-based software, then this ATO shutdown will be a drop in the bucket [by comparison],” says McCann.
McCann for one plans to be prepared. He is frequently in discussions with his fellow director and key staff on just how to manage the risk of internet access. He advises others to do the same.
Watch: IT issues impacting practitioners, chapter 1
The practice management toolkit