The ‘Individuals not in business tax gap’ report issued by the ATO should be a wake-up call for all taxpayers, regulators, government and tax practitioners, according to the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).

“The report identifies that 72 per cent of the 858 cases in the ATO’s random sample, contained errors and that is a worrying statistic, given the quantum of the gap and considering Australia’s current fiscal position,” said IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway.

“Even if you question the robustness of the methodology, the ‘tax gap’ is a guestimate at best; however, you can’t argue that this report points to a serious issue.

“There are many aspects to the problem, including complacency and people who simply flaunt the system, including individuals and rogue Agents.

“The complexity of the tax system also makes it easy to make errors. For example, the substantiation rules for work related deductions up to $300 have inappropriately driven the perception of getting a ‘free kick’.

“The report which spans a two year time frame is acknowledged by the ATO as not being adequate to define a trend so it is a timely reminder that individuals and Tax Agents must commit to raising the bar.

“It should be noted that often the work of the Tax Agent is only as good as assertions made by their client. The Tax Agent is not required to validate all client assertions.

“It is also human nature for individuals to want to maximise refunds and in doing so may mislead their Agent in the course of preparing their return.

“The IPA continues to carry out quality assurance of its members and actively seeks to weed out unprofessional behaviour and reduce error rates.

“It is also important not to tar those Agents doing the right thing with the one ATO brush. If a Tax Agent deliberately flaunts the law, we will work with the ATO and weed them out.

“We must keep in mind that a vast number of Tax Agents are highly professional and endeavour every day to comply with their legal and ethical obligations in an increasingly complex tax system,” said Mr Conway.