Don’t Be A Fool + Get Caught Out With An Audit

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Don’t Be A Fool + Get Caught Out With An Audit

Written by: Canny Accounting


It is something that a lot of taxpayers dread.  An audit from the ATO.  It invokes images of being interrogated in a windowless room.  Having to provide receipts for every deduction you’ve claimed in your life.  Rummaging through a shoebox to find the receipt for a $5 donation you made 10 years ago.  Being hauled off to prison over a few hundred dollars.  We have put together this article to be able to arm you with everything you need to know and how not to be an April fool when it comes to an audit from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), introducing, Don’t Be An April Fool + Get Caught Out With An Audit l Canny Group.

The reality is a little different.  The ATO does thousands of audits each year;

  • Income Tax Returns
  • Business Activity Statements
  • Superannuation
  • Capital Gains
  • Fringe Benefits
  • Individuals
  • Trusts
  • Companies
  • Superannuation Fund – the list goes on!

The Australian Taxation Office has a time limit to conduct audits.  For most taxpayers with simple tax affairs, the ATO usually has two years from the date an assessment is issued.  For more complex taxpayers, the time limit increases to four years.  However, where the ATO suspect fraud or evasion there is no time limit.

Why Does The ATO Conduct Audits When They Can See Your Financial Reporting?

The Australian tax system is based on the concept of self-assessment.  That is, the information that you submit to the Australian Taxation Office is initially accepted as being correct and the onus is on you to ensure that your tax return complies with the taxation laws.

If the ATO suspects that the information you have provided may not be correct, it may be decided to conduct a review or audit to verify its accuracy.

In 2020, it was estimated that ATO audits resulted in additional revenue of $9.5 billion and in the previous four years, the total revenue was over $40 billion.

What Financial Information Will The ATO Look At For Reviews + Audits?

Depending on your circumstances, the ATO may initially conduct a review.  A review can be a simple and quick process of the ATO requesting source documents and workpapers.  Whereas an audit is a more in-depth examination of the tax issue that has arisen.

The review is generally conducted by an Australian Taxation Office Audit Officer who studies your records and tries to match them to the lodged reports.  This could include requesting a transaction listing for the period being audited, looking for proof of payment made for example; bank statements, payment receipts etc. and contacting your suppliers to verify the integrity of invoices provided.

The ATO may request payroll reports or contractor payment summaries as well.  Once these records are provided and the documents are reviewed by a case officer, they may then decide whether the review was satisfactory.

If the officer believes you have not complied with the obligations or a review is not satisfactory given the complexity of the matter or due to some other reason, they may then refer the matter to the audit department.  When this happens – a review gets converted into an Audit.

An Australian Taxation Office Audit is simply a verification of compliance and the accuracy of figures stated on a lodged tax return, activity statement or any other lodged statements.  Hence every time bit of information could be subject to audit.

A typical audit will involve a meeting with the ATO where they will provide information regarding what is being audited, the period/s under audit and what information they will require.

While the ATO will usually use a cooperative approach to gathering information from the taxpayer, they do have legal powers to give them full and free access to places, books and documents and can exercise these powers without notice.

When the Australian Taxation Office has completed its audit, it will provide its position to the taxpayer in writing.  They will also advise if they intend to amend your assessment.  There may be additional tax, penalties and interest charges payable.

In the event that you disagree with the ATO’s decision, you can lodge an objection or appeal.  This will be then looked at by someone within the Australian Taxation Office, but not the same person that made the initial decision. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can pursue the matter through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or Federal Court.

How Does The ATO Know Who To Audit + What About Their Financial Records?

To decide who to audit, the Australian Taxation Office uses data matching, benchmarking, tip-offs, newspapers, and even social media!  There is also a possibility that you can be audited by random selection.

The ATO now have access to a huge amount of data.  They receive data from;

  • Banks + Financial Institutions
  • Medicare
  • Centrelink,
  • WorkCover
  • Land Titles Offices + Planning Authorities
  • Property Title Transfer
  • Tenancy Agreements
  • New Car Purchases
  • Share Registers
  • Managed Investment Funds
  • Building Contractors + many, many more!

Benchmarking allows the Australian Taxation Office to compare data across various industries to identify any taxpayers that are claiming high deductions or not declaring all income.

There have even been cases where ATO officers have read newspaper articles or viewed something on social media and conducted a review or audit.

However, you might be surprised to know that it’s not just the ATO.  State Revenue Offices also conduct audits in relation to state taxes such as stamp duty, payroll tax and land tax.  Declaring rental income on your income tax return may trigger a State Revenue Office to review your land tax registration.

Did you know that the state governments talk to each other?  A payroll tax audit by one state may lead to a payroll tax audit in another state if a business is operating in multiple states!

Audit Insurance + Other Taxation Services

Complying with an audit can be a time-consuming exercise!  You may be required to provide reports and other source documents dating back many years.

Audit insurance will cover you if your hire a professional lawyer or accountant to complete the tax audit on your behalf, which is a very common and practical way to go about the audit.  Even if no adjustments are required after the audit, you could be left with considerable professional fees.  Audit insurance does not cover you if you are required to pay additional money to the Australian Taxation Office after the completion of the audit process.

Audit Shield is one of the services that Canny Group offer to our Accounting clients without fail every year.

This insurance covers audits, enquiries, investigations and reviews into the following:

  • Capital Gains Tax
  • Fringe Benefits Tax
  • Income Tax
  • Land Tax
  • Payroll Tax
  • PAYG
  • Superannuation Guarantee
  • SMSFs + many more!

The best way to avoid an audit is to comply with the law.  Maintaining accurate records can assist in responding to an audit, should you find yourself in that position, as you are able to provide information to the Australian Taxation Office in an efficient manner.  If you are in a high-risk category or have complex tax affairs, you should also consider taking out Audit Insurance to avoid being left with a large accounting and possibly legal bill at the end of an audit!

Help From The Accountants Geelong Trust, Canny Accounting

Get in touch with our team today, so that we are able to talk you through the process and ensure that you don’t be an April fool + get caught out with an audit l Canny Group.  We are the accountants Geelong locals and surrounding areas trust to ensure their accounting and tax needs are met and are covered should you find yourself in the face of an AUTO audit.

Pictured, Canny Group's Accounting team consisting of; Adam Ramage, Jamie Arrington, Danny Grigg, Krystine Canny-Smith and Amanda Wilkens - standing next to a yellow circle!

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