Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tax boss explains refund delays

STEPHEN JOHNSON April 22, 2010 - 2:34PM
The tax commissioner has fronted a parliamentary hearing to explain how a computer glitch caused 140,000 Australians to miss out on tax refund cheques.
Michael D'Ascenzo admitted the Australian Taxation Office's performance standards had dropped during an $824 million technology upgrade.
"With a system deployment as large as this some transitional issues are unavoidable," he told a parliamentary hearing in Canberra.
"Our performance against service delivery standards has dipped in the face of increasing workloads."
But Mr D'Ascenzo told an earlier public accounts and audit committee that the transition to a new computer system had not been a catastrophic failure.
"I don't think you can justifiably say the system is not working," he said.
"It's the sort of issues you'd expect from the implementation."
Opposition assistant treasury spokeswoman Sussan Ley, however, told the commissioner the delay in getting refund cheques to taxpayers was a sign the tax office would struggle to implement future tax reforms.
"There's something Monty Python-esque about you saying the system is working well," she said.
"People have described it as a debacle, as a disaster, as unmanageable.
"I'm sorry, the system is not working."
Ms Ley said frustrated taxpayers had told her of promised refunds not arriving, involving large amounts.
The tax office identified a glitch in early April where 140,000 tax returns for individuals had been sent out without an accompanying cheque.
The hearing was told the tax office rectified the problem and had the cheques printed on Monday.
Mr D'Ascenzo said cleanskin tax returns would be processed without incident from the end of April.
The tax office closed its computer processing from Christmas until late January so it could move 32 million tax accounts onto a new system.
As a result of the summer delay, the tax office is now processing 188,000 more complex returns - 88,000 more than normal because of the delay.
"I'm not sure what you do when you close a road," Mr D'Ascenzo said in his biannual appearance before the parliamentary committee.
The hearing was told the tax office had fast-tracked 3843 returns from people facing hardship.
Ms Ley congratulated the tax commissioner on his approach to helping those in need, including drought-affected farmers.

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