Who Goes Down If A Dodgy Tax Return Is Filed In Your Name?

Hot tax tip: "can't add properly" isn't a recognised excuse.

It’s tax time, as you’ve no doubt realised by the annual mid-year flowering of A-frames outside of nondescript suburban shopfronts promising YOUR TAX RETURN IN 14 DAYS and FA$T RETURN$ HERE and HOT CHICKENS COOKING NOW AND ALSO TAX RETURNS. Or maybe that last one was just in my dreams.

Anyway, when considering the hot, juicy offers before you as far as accountants and tax agents go, you might idly wonder “say, if I hire someone qualified to do my tax for me and they get it wrong, who gets to face the wrath of the Australian Taxation Office?”

And here’s the answer: it’s you.

Yeah, this doesn’t work.

Now, it should be pointed out that if you think there’s something wrong with your tax return you can amend your return through the ATO. And, as they explain at their site, you should do it quickly too:

“Whatever the reason, you should correct any error as quickly as possible. In some cases, there are legal time limits to making adjustments. And the longer you leave it, the greater the possible consequences in terms of interest and penalties you may have to pay, if the amendment increases the money you owe.”

But what if you don’t realise and it’s only when Johnny Tax comes a-knocking at the door that you realise that something was awry? Well… that’s unfortunate.

Also not an excuse.

Under Australian law your accountant is acting as your agent, which means they are doing stuff under your advice. You sign a declaration when your tax return is filed saying that the information is true and correct which means that you accept full legal liability.

And that’s the case even if the screw up isn’t yours. If you’ve given all the correct information to your accountant and they add stuff up wrong because they’re using a knock off Pepster Pigg calculator with no seven which they bought from a stall in Bali, then guess what? Legally, if you don’t notice, that’s your problem.

Et tu, Pepster?

So what are your options? Well, they exist but none of them are great.

One is to run your stuff by a second accountant or a tax lawyer, but if you’re using a low-rent accountant you presumably don’t have that sort of money. That, or you’re making an informed choice to specifically pick someone who plays fast and loose with their tax advice.

That sweatshirt feels like a giveaway.

Or you could do it yourself, which might not reduce your chances of being wrong but at least makes assigning blame more efficient.

And definitely do some research on your tax agent before engaging them. Established firms are pricier but most likely have a decent track record; Steve’s Tax And Meat Curing Service Parked Behind The Fish Shop is probably less reputable.

And remember: even once it’s all over, you get to do it all again next year. Yay!

Enough With The Entitlements, Politicians: Start Justifying Your Expenses At Tax Time Like The Rest Of Us

After all, isn't the age of entitlement supposedly over?

It’s tax time, friends! Yes, the glorious season where we, as a nation, go “what, that’s all I made last year? Oh god, where are my receipts? Alright, this year I’m keeping up to date with my accounts, honest, I’m doing a spreadsheet every week” and/or “wait a second, if I’m paying this in tax then why the hell am I getting so many service cuts in everything?”

And as we do go through that annual dance of paperwork, one former and one current federal political have called out politicians for using the tax period to plonk payments into their own pockets: specifically, their electoral allowance which is meant to cover local duties and is under no obligation to be spent thusly.

Yeah. You heard right.

“MPs are well paid. The electoral allowance is money you should spend in your electorate, not pad your bank account,” said ex-senator Derryn Hinch to the SMH, “This stuff’s been hidden but there’s a scandal there.”

Current Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie added “I suspect some spend none of it and suddenly you’ve got an extra $32,000 in income. It’s a misuse of the allowance.”

And look, It’s easy to bash pollies. We know they’re busy people with a lot on their mind.

That would explain why they so often do things like claim travel allowances to go to weddings and to check out investment properties and to attend polo matches or attend far-right rallies in states you don’t represent and thinking it’s perfectly normal to bill taxpayers for over one thousand dollars a month on home internet, and only go “oh, whoops, totally missed that, I’ll be paying that back obviously just like I always intended to do” when the media and public point it out.

Oh, those adorably forgetful silly billies!

Gotta love ’em!

And under the current system that’s far from easy to do.

In fact, it’s almost like the politicians which benefit from the opacity of the reporting protocols and the time lag between claiming expenses and actually making that information part of the public record have some sort of motivation to maintain said system and stymie any change that might make it more transparent and accountable. Weird, eh?

Anyway: here’s an idea. Make polls do what we have to do: scrape the entitlements altogether and start making them claim back all their legitimate expenses.

After all, we’re required to justify every cent that we want to claw back from the ATO each year. If it’s so damn easy and reasonable to expect it of us, why do our representatives get a free ride?

After all, if pollies had to stump up for their own flights and then wait for the bureaucracy to reimburse them they might be a little less forgetful about whether this was for an official trip or a colleague’s 50th.

If You Haven't Ever Changed Banks You're Definitely Paying A Hefty Can't-Be-Arsed Tax

But you can save yourself hundreds with a tiny bit of internet-time.

Banking is one of those things which is so damn boring that no-one especially wants to think about it for more time than is absolutely necessary.

Your pay goes in, your buying goes out, and unless something goes horribly wrong with either of those elements then for the most part people are happy to ignore the issue.

And banks know this.

“We banks are so sorry for the way we’ve treated you.”

They know that you don’t want to go through and change all your automatic payments. They know that you don’t want to have to remember another PIN or access code. They know what you don’t want to have to learn another institution’s netbanking layout.

And they’ve done tricky emotional things to you too that make you less likely to change banks, like sign you up when you were a kid so you associate the bank with bouncy cartoon characters and cool money boxes rather than eye-gouging fees.

It’s tragic, but true: the Dollarmites weren’t really your friends.

Here’s the thing that we all learned in the Royal Commission into the Financial Sector, though: wow, banks just hate your guts.

Once you’re a customer the aim is to shake you down for fees and charges, often opaque ones that you’d never notice, and assume that you won’t go “wait a second, I’m paying literally hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege of accessing my own money!”

And while the Royal Commission was very big on large corporations blaming “bad apples” within their banking culture and making showy apologies, there’s zero sign that they’ve decided to do right by the people who’ve been parking their money with them for years.

What we assume banks do at 5.01pm every day.

So: it’s time to do some searching around.

One big development in recent times is the emergence of online banks. The downside is that they don’t have shopfronts that you can go into in order to do things like deposit cheques not via post, for example, or discuss things face to face with a human.

However, if the lions share of your banking is pretty much done digitally – as is the case with most people – then it’s worth looking at them, since that’s where the lowest fees are. Often in the form of no fees at all – including at ATMs, or using your card overseas. That’s cash in your hand, right there.

And look how happy he is!

And don’t panic about going with a smaller bank: all Australian deposits are guaranteed by the government up to $250,000. And if you have more than that… um, why are you leaving it in a bank account? Don’t you have investments to leverage or something, Wealtho McMoneybags?

At the very least it’s worth doing a search and check what the likes of UBank or ING are offering their customers and then giving your current bank a call and saying “so, what will you offer me in order to keep me as a customer?” And don’t hang up until you have some fees waived.

Because they’re not going to offer it just out of the goodness of their record year on year profits (and misleading claims about where said profits end up), that’s for sure.

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