Now and then it may be the case that you will have legitimate reason to complain about how the Tax Office has dealt with your tax affairs, and of course you have every right to do so. But disputes about tax assessments do not always have to end up in a court or a major tribunal.
For taxpayers who have smaller disputed amounts (less than $5,000), an alternative avenue to settle your dispute is the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal. This provides a cheaper and quicker process than the full Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) or the vexatious option of litigation.
The Small Taxation Claims Tribunal provides access to a quick and inexpensive review of some decisions made by the Tax Office — for example if it amends your tax assessment to include extra income that it claims you made. It is also independent of the Tax Office.
Before the tribunal can review decisions, a taxpayer must first have asked the Tax Office to look at the decision again by lodging an objection (which you ideally will have this office do for you). The tribunal is then able to review the decision made by the Tax Office on this objection. It can also review decisions made by the Tax Office that refuse a request for an extension of time to make an objection to a taxation decision.
It cannot however review a decision about how much tax you must pay if the amount of tax in dispute is $5,000 or more. Such a review is required to be conducted by the AAT’s Taxation Appeals Division.
How do you know if it can help you?
If you receive a decision from the Tax Office that you think is wrong, the document should tell you the appropriate body where it can be reviewed. You can always bring this document into us if this is unclear. An application form is available from the Small Taxation Claims website (ask this office for a copy if you like), or a letter will also suffice. A copy of the decision document that you want reviewed is also needed.
The application form or letter must include:
- your name, address and telephone number
- your date of birth
- the branch of the Tax Office where the decision was made
- the date of the decision and the date you received it
- brief reasons why you think the decision is wrong, and
- if you want the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal to review a decision about how much tax you must pay, the amount of tax in dispute.
This last point is important as if you do not state the amount of tax in dispute, your review will be conducted by the AAT’s Taxation Appeals Division.
Time limit for application, and fees
Applications to the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal must be made no later than 60 days after receiving the decision from the Tax Office. If you want to make an application but the time limit has expired, you will need to apply for an extension of time (again another form, but we can help you with that).
There is a non-refundable fee of $85 for applications dealt with in the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal. This must be paid within six weeks before an application can proceed. If you make more than one application for review and they can be dealt with together, the AAT can decide that you only have to pay one fee.
What happens next?
About two weeks after the tribunal accepts your application, you will receive a set of papers in the mail that are put together by the Tax Office. They are a copy of the papers that are relevant to the decision and are called the Section 37 documents, or the T (for tribunal) documents.
If you do not have a professional person representing you, such as a lawyer or someone from this office, the tribunal will call you to talk about the AAT’s procedures. Having representation is recommended, but it is not required. In most cases, the first step in a review is an informal meeting with you and your representative if you have one and a representative of the Tax Office. You will have a chance to talk about your case and explain why you think the decision should be changed. This conference is usually held between four and six weeks after the tribunal accepts your application.
Where possible, the tribunal will try to help you and the Tax Office reach an agreement about how your case should be resolved. It may propose a second conference or another type of alternative dispute resolution process (for example conciliation, mediation, case appraisal or neutral evaluation).
If an agreement cannot be reached, the tribunal will hold a hearing and make a decision. The procedures and the amount of time needed to complete the review will vary from case to case, but the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal states that it aims to have cases finalised within three months.
If you give information to the tribunal that the Tax Office does not have, its usual procedure is to give the Tax Office a copy. Limited information about a case is usually made available to the public on request, and more information is usually made publicly available if a hearing is held.
The tribunal can order that information be kept confidential if it believes there is good reason to do so, but you can apply for an order by writing to the AAT stating what information you want kept confidential and why. In some cases, legislation requires that particular information be kept confidential anyway. Contact us if you think the Small Taxation Claims Tribunal may be an avenue you wish to explore.