The Inspector-General of Taxation, Ali Noroozi, confirmed on Tuesday that he would investigate complaints aired by Fairfax Media and the ABC of inappropriate debt collection strategies.
The media investigation uncovered allegations of unreasonable use of garnishee notices at the ATO’s Adelaide office. Garnishee notices allow the ATO to take control of a taxpayer’s bank account without the taxpayer’s consent.
Whistleblower Richard Boyle told media that the Adelaide office had been instructed “quite clearly and categorically to start issuing standard garnishees on every case”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Noroozi said 75 per cent of complaints received come from individual taxpayers, with the remaining quarter issued by small businesses.
The investigation will examine the ATO’s use of garnishee notices in tax debt management strategies, the policies and procedures associated with garnishee notices and the mechanisms in place to ensure staff adherence with the policies.
It will also look at key performance indicators (KPI) relationship with tax debt collection and staff performance and specific communications to staff about garnishee notices.
Speaking to Nest Egg’s sister site My Business, Mr Noroozi said the public shouldn’t hesitate in coming forward with information or complaints.
They should, however, be aware of the different confidentiality requirements associated with complaints opposed to submissions.
He explained, “If you want me to address that specific complaint, I will need your consent to disclose your information.
“If it’s a submission and you just want to share general information and you want to remain absolutely confidential then that is totally respected. I only need to get your permission if you want me to fix your particular problem.”
‘Give me something to lean on’
At the same time, Mr Noroozi asked informants to avoid making unsubstantiated claims.
“They’ve got to give me something to lean on,” he said.
“For example, if they send me something saying the tax officers are very bad, what am I going to do with that? What they need to do is – by all means remain anonymous – but lead me to what I need to investigate.
“Like, ‘I dealt with this particular tax office location, these were the problems that arose’.
“We will take submission in whatever case or form but the usefulness will depend on what they share.”
Mr Noroozi said the investigation will be performed as “expeditiously as possible”.
Those with information can make a complaint by visiting the Inspector-General of Taxation website.