How the ATO checks on you

The tax office puts losses at $906 per person – and it wants to lower that figure.

Two people unhappy

Have you heard of data-matching? It comes in several guises, but the one that should interest you is the data-matching being done by the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

The ATO says it is missing out on an average of $906 per person as a result of incorrect information on tax returns. And with technology making the hunt an increasingly lucrative form of revenue raising, more Australians are receiving “please explain” letters as a result of data-matching.

Did you include the bank interest on your emergency health fund? The rent assistance you received for part of the year? The casual work you did for four months over summer? The money earnt when you put your home on Airbnb while you travelled in the caravan?

“The first point is: don’t panic,” Etax senior tax agent Liz Russell told

“It means that someone has lodged a tax return that the ATO believes may not contain all the information, or may contain incorrect information. The ATO is fed information from different institutions and then they do a data match with the tax return.”

Ms Russell said that not every tax return was data-matched but improved technology meant more were being checked each year. She also explained that comparisons were made with taxpayers in similar circumstances and suspicious claims were investigated.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore a letter from the ATO seeking clarification on your tax return, she said, or you could risk having your assessment “adjusted based on assumptions”. People usually have 28 days to respond.

“If a refund from their perspective looks reasonable within the occupation and range, they’re probably not going to spend a lot of time chasing something up because it’s not cost-effective,” she said. “They’re certainly doing anything that falls outside the expected ranges.”

She explained that an innocent mistake was unlikely to incur a penalty.

“There usually won’t be a penalty when an innocent mistake has been made, such as entering an incorrect digit or forgetting the PAYG summary from a second job,” she told “However, if the mistake results in a larger tax refund than the taxpayer is entitled to, they’ll have to repay the surplus amount, and potentially interest too.”

The ATO has warned that it is examining information provided by online platforms such as Airbnb to identify taxpayers who had left out rental income and claimed unsubstantiated deductions.

ATO assistant commissioner Kath Anderson told that rental properties were on the hit list. “The availability of short stay rentals has exploded thanks to the online revolution,” she said in a statement. “With the growing number of homes, apartments, units and rooms available via accommodation sharing sites, there is a real risk some people may not understand their tax obligations.

“We are increasingly using data and technology to identify any missing income in your tax returns. This data will also identify taxpayers who use sharing economy rental platforms to list a property that is not genuinely available for rent in order to claim unwarranted deductions. There is no hi-tech hideaway for rental income.”

Have you ever made an innocent mistake on a tax return? Or been audited several years later? Do you believe the ATO would be wiser focusing instead on large tax avoiders?



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    Not a Bludger
    14th Aug 2018
    Ha - innocent mistake? - just like all those Centrelink rorters who try to claim innocent mistake.
    14th Aug 2018
    I am wondering if wealthy Australians with offshore tax havens are under the same scrutiny or if they are left alone because it is too difficult to chase these people through the courts.
    This is one of many areas of life where the 'little' people are fair game and are cannibalised because they do not have the resources to go through the courts. Welcome to crooked governments who turn a blind eye to the top end of town.
    14th Aug 2018
    Actually it’s the ‘little’ people that are doing the cannibalising. Estimates are that individuals (not in businesses) are underpaying their tax liability (overclaiming tax deductions, not returning income from cash jobs etc) by $8.7 billion pa compared with large corporates (defined as those with a turnover of more than $250 million), where the tax gap is $2.4 billion.
    The ‘little’ people don’t stop there. When it comes to Centrelink welfare benefits, around 40,000 of them are also cheating to the extent of $200 million pa.
    It is wrong to say that the government turns a blind eye to the top end of town. Large corporates paid $41 billion in corporate income tax during the 2014/15 financial year.
    14th Aug 2018
    Entry and exit tax on every dollar.... if you are a company offshore, you pay 30% tax - but I'm warming to the idea that ONLY local based companies might get a tax cut to boost something or other.... as long as they aren't offshoring profits and rorting etc - business as usual.

    I doubt there'd be much 'under-reporting' from the PAYG earner... they just don't have the entrances and the exits....

    So much for the comparison with Centrelink.....

    BTW - where do I line up to cheat? Is there a tertiary course available - for the slow ones like me who never learned to cheat....
    14th Aug 2018
    Agreed David
    Not much room to manouvre if youre a corporation except to claim legitimate deductions.

    Too many people on cash jobs and claiming all sorts of expenses against their wages
    18th Aug 2018
    Also agree with you David.

    As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site; I personally know of someone who made 30,000 dollars in cash payments doing painting jobs. He is also a recipient of Centrelink.

    Not the only one. What about people who organised their money prior to claiming a pension and have large sums of money secreted in their homes so they would qualify for pensions.!!

    Myself and husband do not and would not have any way of rorting the tax system...every dividend or interestor moneys we receive is on computer somewhere.

    An audit would not be a problem in our case.
    14th Aug 2018
    seriously - do you expect " tell all " revelations concerning personal tax affairs - suggest
    you join the real world asap !!!
    14th Aug 2018
    That's right 'Not a bludger'. Funny how all the ATO/Centrelink mistakes are all in the taxpayer's/welfare recipient's favour.

    14th Aug 2018
    Yes - the rich are paying more and more tax each year
    ATO gets all bank interest centerlink and dividend information prefilled in your returns
    Hope they never get access to foreign banking and investments
    14th Aug 2018
    Bad news olbaid. They already do.
    12 years ago my wife and I worked in Ireland in the celtic tiger days. We still have an Irish bank account even though we have been back in Australia for over 10 years. We use it whenever we have a European holiday. It's an everyday transaction account that presently pays no interest but when we first returned it paid something like 0.01% so earned us about 5 to 6 euro a year. First or second year back and we went to our tax agent and she already knows how much we have earned in shares and bank interest but then asked us about the foreign interest. I hadn't even thought of it but she knew about it because the ATO had the information for her along with our other Aussie income so I imagine there is data matching with cooperative foreign governments already.
    14th Aug 2018
    ''The RICH are paying more and more tax each year"??? No, olbaid. Quite the reverse. They are raking in more and more profit each year and paying less and less, while the middle class and upper working class are suffering. And it's essential that the ATO gets access to foreign banking and investments, because the rich cheats use off-shore accounts to dodge their obligations.
    14th Aug 2018
    Individuals don't 'rake in profit', business does!

    Individuals get paid income and bonuses both subject to tax!.
    14th Aug 2018
    What about Sole Traders, I'm one and I make a profit and taxed accordingly.
    14th Aug 2018
    No they aren't. One of their subsidiaries loans the other at 19% interest and the borrowing entity get a tax deduction while the profits go off to goodness knows where to pay the loan all untaxed by Australia.

    It's doing dreadful things to the Balance of Payments but they knew that when they privatised everything and sought out foreign contractors to replace home grown didn't they?
    14th Aug 2018
    Rae - this government wants to reduce the corporate tax rate, so that we collect more in taxes.
    As usual labor and the Greens oppose it just to buy votes
    14th Aug 2018
    Good to see the rich paying a part of what they owe... good old ATO and their links...

    I told you all before that when I posted my last two returns, the Good Office auto-filled everything for me except any extra little claims, such as charity donations, which I never claim anyway.

    I can't really see the average wage earner has any opportunity to dodge tax..... so that leaves the 'business class' - which means the average per liable individual is actually much higher than $906....
    14th Aug 2018
    Wrong Trebor
    I am a wage earner and I legitimately paid $8000 tax on an income of $430k
    14th Aug 2018
    Depends on how you've disposed your money...... and a wage of $430k = $8k a week - hardly a wage... plenty of discretionary income there.

    As for offshore accounts - damn - all my book royalties are held in the US - Chase Manhattan....
    15th Aug 2018
    Olbaid, you are badly misinformed (or deliberately blind). It is well known that the wealthy are using accountants to evade taxes using all sorts of loopholes, with many paying zero / negligible taxes - didn't hear about that?

    Also, many (rather most) companies are also doing their best to evade paying reasonable taxes - see article below which has a detailed comparison table and shows the "Effective Tax Rate" for Corporates in Australia is 10.4% - got that???

    Minimum Taxes are LONG OVERDUE in Australia - our politicians need to grow a spine and insist on this, besides removing the massive loopholes from Overseas Interest payments, Outsourcing, Trusts, excessive Negative Gearing, excessive Superannuation benefits, etc, etc, etc.

    So much can be done, and overall the taxes can be reduced as well as Universal Pension provided for all if these issues are tackled - if there was a will within any political party!!!
    15th Aug 2018
    Wrong George
    Forget the play on words. The effective tax rate means nothing
    The actual tax rate is 30% on taxable profits.
    Tax can be deferred through accelerated allowances and other credits, but STILL HAS TO BE PAID EVENTUALLY

    Stop being conned by activists and political opportunists
    16th Aug 2018
    You are clearly full of yourself, olbaid, with NO understanding that taxes avoided will NEVER be paid. 30% tax rate is a JOKE as they all try their best not to pay it and are getting away with it due to weak Govts. You are clearly paid to make such unsubstantiated comments, while ignoring facts & figures. Go away, Lib party troll.
    17th Aug 2018
    olbaid, did you just say you paid $8K of tax on $430K income? If so, you are only paying .53% tax rate? Just over half a %?

    You must have a very talented & creative accountant then.
    17th Aug 2018
    All above board Hoohoo.
    I would never cheat the ATO of rightful taxes
    14th Aug 2018
    The income tax system is a scam run by accountants and lawyers for their personal financial benefit. Equity, justice and honesty are words that do not apply to it's operation. For example:

    1. Some years ago I was signing letters to support my staffs' legitimate claims for expenses earned in the process of earning their income; which they were rightly allowed. But when I submitted for the same expense items it was rejected.

    2. I lodged a request for review and waited patiently. A few months later I received a letter advising the review had been conducted and determined I was not eligible to receive those same deductions my staff were receiving. I contacted them to ask how was the review done, because there is no evidence they contacted anyone (eg the accounts people) in the not-for-profit where I worked to verify if the claim was legitimate. The answer was they did it themselves, internally, without reference to any actual facts or corroborating information. I suggested it would be impossible to reach any other conclusion based solely on their accumulated ignorance of the facts and asked what was the next step to address this problem. The response was "take us to court".

    3. I advised that is a pretty good way to prevent any justice, because I did not have the money to take them to court. They did not respond further. A case of faceless bureaucrats telling me to POQ and they are above question.

    4. So I advised not to expect another tax return until I received a letter of apology and a refund of all the unjustly denied deductions. Silence again. When I did my next submission - ten years later - I did it through a tax accounting firm and got all the money for deductions (all backed up by legitimate receipt etc) of exactly the same - previously denied - items.

    The lesson; if I make the claims myself they are rejected. If I get another one of their profession - accountants - to submit the claim for the identical same items, I get the deductions, no questions asked. I my judgement, that is called corruption. Accountants on the inside in an unholy alliance with accountants on the out]side, to feather their nests.

    These incidents taught me that being honest and honourable with regard to dealings with the Aus Tax Office is a dead loss. I then searched around to find the dirtiest scam accountant I could locate and got him to do all my future returns. It was amazing.

    The problem is that a deliberately convoluted and complex system is protected by a wall of faceless bureaucracy, and a corrupted relationship between "professionals" on the outside and inside. A regular tax payer trying to do the right thing and submit their own returns has no chance of getting a fair deal. It's rigged.

    And if we are brave enough to question anything the wall of faceless bureaucracy protects them from any examination. The deliberately convoluted nature of the beast aids and abets the corruption between accountants and lawyers on the inside and those on the outside. It is an unholy alliance.

    Regular honest people are afraid to make too much noise about the Aus Tax Office for fear of retaliation in the form of desk audits, court cases and dawn raids by Federal Police. It's relationship with us peasants is like you'd expect in a South American dictatorship or police state.

    Democratic values evaporate when it comes to the Aus Tax Office. Instead of government "of the people, by the people, for the people" it operates a system that is "of the people, by the tax office, for their accountants/lawyers". That's nowhere near democratic or equitable values.

    There is no level playing field or transparency in Aus Tax Office operations. Because the faceless bureaucrats running the system and making decisions about normal taxpayers' financial future have no need to justify their actions, decisions or choices. They can be as arrogant and abusive as they like and never need to answer for it.

    This situation would get a lot closer to a level playing field and democratic transparency if our knowledge of the tax officer dealing with our return is the same as their knowledge of us; we know their address, bank account details, family, where their children go to school, tax file number, annual income, debts etc. That would help make what are now arrogant government employees - who seem to forget it is us taxpayers who pay their salary - a lot more considerate and equitable in their decision making. And more respectful in the way they deal with us.

    Power corrupts and and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Aus Tax Office is a prime example.
    14th Aug 2018
    deep blue - an administrative tribunal operating under ato auspices
    would have provided you with an opportunity to have
    your " day in court " without having to contend with
    formal legal protocols. I have never been through the
    process but it provides an opportunity for you to air
    your grievances while ato representative will be
    obliged to justify their position.
    Deliberations are assessed by an independent presiding
    official whose findings are binding on either or both
    parties UNLESS you ( as complainant ) wish to obtain
    a formal court ruling.

    Suggest you contact ATO for precise details.
    14th Aug 2018
    I was going to produce the Book Of Ethics For Accountants etc... but someone accidentally wrote a shopping list on it thinking it was a blank piece of paper....
    15th Aug 2018
    Thanks Auspicious, that's very useful information. The ATO official I interacted with on this issue certainly did not offer that option. The court option was definitely stated as a deliberate block to prevent me taking the matter further. When you have access to people's income data it's easy to know what threat could block them causing trouble for you.

    I should say this incident occurred about 30 years ago. I had hoped they might have become more civilised since then, but the reports I read earlier this year - from an inquiry into the ATO - suggested they still play the same games and that people still live in fear of the ATO.

    This raises a serious question. Why - in a supposedly democratic society - do people need to live in fear of a public institution which they fund, supposedly for their benefit? If this public institution can only operate by using threats (financial and incarceration) and coercion of the citizenry whose lives it is supposed to enhance, why are we paying to have that institution at all?

    I recall talk quite some years ago, when GST was being introduced, that perhaps the income tax system should be dropped and replaced with a far simpler to administer consumption tax. There was a barrage of negative response from all the parasites who presently live off the income tax system - lawyers, accountants, journalists - and who would need to get a real and productive job if that happened. So the idea never went anywhere.

    But how much money to taxpayers pay each year to support a public institution that needs to rely on threats and intimidation on a wide scale in order to achieve it's goals? Is it worth the financial cost, the cost to democratic values, and the quality of life?

    We were all taught that an income tax system is supposedly a progressive taxation. But lets be real, the people with money who should pay more don't because they can hire a scammy accountant to exploit the system (with help from their accountant mates inside the ATO) and pay minimal to none; legally. And the fact is wealth and income distribution inequality has been rapidly acceleration these past thirty years, especially in developed countries. So the income tax system is not making it's contribution to that task; like we have been promised by all the parasites who live off the system.

    There has to be a better way that does not cost us taxpayers so much to operate, which does not require an atmosphere of fear to operate and which exemplifies - rather then undermines - democratic values.

    Yes, TREBOR, I agree, accountants have promised us to bring justice into money matters. But instead they are the profession which has betrayed the trust given to them. They have lied and cheated us to take as much for themselves as possible, skimming our income, super, bank interest, investments etc; taking much more then we get ourselves. They have fabricated the books to enable the biggest corporate (eg WorldCom) collapses in the world to occur and to allow the criminal bank finance industry psychopaths to sink the world economy while lining their tax haven bank accounts.

    Are there any honest accountants? Are there any honourable ATO employees who think more about us then themselves? I have not heard them making a noise to change things.
    14th Aug 2018
    I don't see what the issue is. Just declare everything and you won't have a problem. I do including the 90 cents earned on a bank account for the financial year 2017-2018! So someone else owes the ATO the remaining $905.10 of the $906 the say everyone owes the ATO.

    I've never had any cause for complaint from the ATO.
    14th Aug 2018
    Nor have I...... and you declared your $0.90 so someone else can add the full $906 to their tally...
    14th Aug 2018
    While all the "outraged'' jump up and down because people fudge their tax returns, the same people are happy to make massive asset increases simply by owning a home, a home that in productivity terms produces absolutely nothing. No capital gains tax just massive appreciation caused by an engineering by government to create higher demand than supply for an essential commodity. Stand by for more outrage from the moral high ground.
    14th Aug 2018
    Correct - take two jelly beans...... serial housing is a form of deadstock returning nothing to very little.. an occasional cash job for a tradie etc is about it, plus keeping the banks buoyant.... but tax?

    What is this tax? I hear of him somewhere (????) ....
    15th Aug 2018
    And exactly how does that massive appreciation help the average home owner.

    All I can see is increases in rates, insurances because idiots are prepared to borrow insane amounts of money for over valued assets at the height of a huge property boom.

    If you sold at the top you might do okay but there would be little profit after costs and buying again somewhere else.
    14th Aug 2018
    Many years ago, a mate of mine, a sales tax investigator in the tax department, caught a large Sydney jeweller sending watches to their lord How branch, & reclaiming the import duty. They were then sending these back to Oz as repairs, & selling them here, without sales tax paid.

    It cost them a lot in repaying the duty, & the dodged sales tax, plus a really big fine.

    Don't forget government staff are tax payers too, & don't like being ripped off any more than we do. Also remember they will be after you to, if you try to rip the rest of us off.

    14th Aug 2018
    Meanwhile as labor continues to sabotage the country ...

    Bluescope chief Mark Vassella has credited Donald Trump's tax cuts and depreciation changes with helping the business record a $1.6 billion profit, and called for Australia to follow suit.
    the boss of Australia's largest steel manufacturer said lower corporate rates and depreciation benefits had led to a boost in private investment in the US.

    He called for Australia to implement lower corporate tax rates, which had helped to create a strong, lower cost environment to assist businesses in North America grow.
    Ted Wards
    14th Aug 2018
    These days its almost impossible for the wage earning tax paying public to not declare every cent as its all electronically done and if you do it through the Mygov site and link your ATO info to it, they will do the return for you. The only thing you have to add is rebates such as your deductible life, income and health insurance etc. If you have a TFN you legally cannot not pay tax etc. SO this would only apply to people who are receiving cash in hand etc. Ive had them send me my return already filled out with everything except my deductibles for the last four years and its lodged and the return is in my bank account within three working days. If you've been honest and have completed your tax return regularly they already know what your income etc is. Its only when something out of the ordinary happens they start looking. So if I were to suddenly buy shares and not declare them when Im supposed to an immediate flag would be raised. As usual if you are doing the right thing, yes you can make mistakes, but they are genuine and you have little to fear.
    14th Aug 2018
    Coooo-rrect - take two jelly beans - and run out to the shop and get me a new bag, will you?
    14th Aug 2018
    Easy put your money in the Cayman Islands like the Future Fund and big Mal.
    14th Aug 2018
    Olbaid you must be giving O.G. a rest.
    14th Aug 2018
    Where is Old Geezer. Perhaps he got sick of listening to you negative nellies constantly wanting more taxpayer handouts, that he's decided not to post anymore
    Or he could be on a self funded cruise but still having to put up with OAP's who can afford cruises on full pensions but still want more
    14th Aug 2018
    Spoken like OG. I think you’ve just changed the name
    14th Aug 2018
    You anti free market anti LNP pro labor folks all sound the same . Are you all one and the same person ?
    14th Aug 2018
    Poor old OG probably choked on his fantasies about his cash and hoardings.... and I don't mean those big advertising billboards, either...

    Never known such a person, with a finger on the pulse of every single thing ..... I mean - I'm good - but not that good...
    14th Aug 2018
    The tax man. Had a letter from the ATO addressed to the "trustee of the late *******". Contacted the ATO and asked "who was the trustee". Their answer "is your name on the address of the letter" my answer "no". ATO Answer "It doesn't concern you" Down went the phone from my end. One month later ATO sent a letter in Red Printing. Once again contacted ATO.They asked for my tax file No. I don't have one!!!. This floored them, they then asked for my Bank Account details--yer like hell you get that. This floored them. The silly buggers at ATO Canberra didn't ask the right question. My Accountant had closed off my tax file some 10yrs previous and as I had to hold my records for 7 yrs so all tax info went into the big fire after 7 yrs. I don't hold any ATO records after the 7 yr period as per THEIR tax act.
    I don't pay tax, no tax return lodged. They got stroppy to my answers and accused me of getting upset. No I am not getting upset I am just starting to get warmed up to get stuck into them. I demanded a letter saying that I am not required to provide any information as the Trustee of the late Mrs********. This was on Tues and demanded the letter be in my hands by 2.00pm Friday or this information and their attitude will be sent to the Minister for a Ministerial. Mail turned up Thursday--no further problems thereafter. The late Mrs ****** had not done a tax return for 5 yrs previously. She had passed away some 5 years, therefore unable to do a tax return. Her Tax file No had been canceled by the accountant at her death. HOW DUMB ARE ATO
    14th Aug 2018
    Don't you need a TFN to claim OAP?

    14th Aug 2018
    Bring it on - you ain't got nothin' on me, copper!
    14th Aug 2018
    A couple of months ago I heard (either TV or newspaper) that the "effective" corporate tax rate in Australia was about 17%. I've no idea how this figure was calculated but maybe there's some truth in it considering that none of the multinationals have yet threatened to take their bat and ball and go home if Turnbull doesn't get his proposed top-end tax cuts through.
    All of us, rich or poor who post on this thread , are effectively in the mushroom club when it comes to knowing what really goes on when the government makes deals with the oligarchs who really run this country.
    14th Aug 2018
    Yes - a tax cut would be an enforced rise in tax percentage for most of them.... like the main street in Glen Innes, when the local council once suggested making the speed limit there 30 kph and everyone said :- "What? Make 'em drive faster?"
    14th Aug 2018
    14th Aug 2018
    ... is in the mail ???
    15th Aug 2018
    Don't always trust the ATO to do the right thing. I was a School Chaplain which gave me two bites of the cherry when it came to tax deductions - as a clergyman and as a teacher. In 1989, the ATO asked me to participate in a survey which was about people with two roles claiming two lots of tax deductions. In big black letters, the letter told me that this was not an audit and even if they found discrepancies, they would not be allowed to use it against me - it was a survey to help them with future directions. I had just moved house from one end of the country to the other and could not find my tax receipts for one of the two years they requested. I told them and have it in writing that it was okay. One year would give them the information they were looking for. And again in big black writing said that it was not an audit and there would be no repercussions for not providing the requested information. Well, you guessed it, the ATO later told me that because I could not provide the tax receipts for the year they requested, they demanded the refund for that year back and no matter what the letters said, they just held the debt against me and took it back out of future refunds.
    You cannot trust the ATO to even obey their own rules. You cannot trust Centrelink to not look at your bank account. Last night, I checked my bank account balance through the mygov online system. They knew when I received $4000 from my Grandmother's estate before I did! Centrelink staff have told me that they check regularly. It is a simple set up where the computer checks the balances automatically. And when Centrelink make a mistake and you appeal, the person who made the mistake in the first place is the person who checks/reviews the appleal !! Hide your money under your mattress. Don't let the greedy banks use it to make obscene profits and pay CEOs (who should be in jail) multi-million dollar bonuses!
    15th Aug 2018
    Don't earn, don't own - simple :)

    Since when has rent assistance been a taxable part of our pension?

    15th Aug 2018
    Do you believe the ATO would be wiser focusing instead on large tax avoiders?
    15th Aug 2018
    George, actually the biggest tax evaders are individuals, not large corporates. Estimates are that individuals (not in businesses) are underpaying their tax liability (overclaiming tax deductions, not returning income from cash jobs etc) by $8.7 billion pa compared with large corporates (defined as those with a turnover of more than $250 million), where the tax gap is $2.4 billion.
    Large corporates paid $41 billion in corporate income tax during the 2014/15 financial year.
    15th Aug 2018
    Correct David

    Large corporate pay the actual tax owed in accordance with legislation

    Individuals actually knowing break the law evading taxes
    17th Aug 2018
    Actually, David, I agree Individuals are major tax evaders and serious action is needed - both by closing loopholes, as well as imposing Minimum Taxes, to make them pay reasonable taxes.

    However, I don't believe that Large Corporates are underpaying less than Individuals, as in their case if loopholes are closed and Minimum Taxes imposed the taxes could increase by tens of billions. See the article below, in which it notes "There were 732 companies who paid no tax in Australia in the 2015-16 financial year. Collectively, their income was more than $500 billion." If a Minimum Tax of 20% was applied, that would have raised $100 billion!

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