ATO Misses Its First E-Deadline

Failure to register digital certificates to enable online lodgement and problems with company firewalls saw many of Australia's largest companies resorting to pen and paper when lodging their first GST business activity statement.

Reports to Computerworld also indicate hitches at the Australian Taxation Office with the ATO-developed Electronic Commerce Interface.

The first electronic lodgement which was due by 5pm August 21, is a cornerstone of the new tax system, it aims to automate the GST processing task. Under normal circumstances, monthly electronic lodgement is mandatory for companies with more than $20 million in turnover.

Peter Wilson, assistant commissioner for electronic service delivery for the Australian Taxation Office, said the system is working but many companies had failed to activate their digital certificate, company firewalls had blocked the SSL which enabled the digital certificates, and many people who had ticked the box wanting to lodge electronically were, help desk reports suggest, "clearly computer illiterate".

An ATO spokesperson said: "We can't influence how companies have set up their firewalls, but we are aware of the problems some companies are experiencing. We have advised them to lodge manually this time until the problem can be resolved."

Wilson said as of July 1, 145,000 keys and digital certificates had been generated, but as at August 33 only 30,000 companies had downloaded the certificates.

He said only 5225 companies had activated their digital certificates as July 1, but only 4504 had actually retrieved their digital certificate and responded to the ATO. Wilson said at August 23, 3200 companies had lodged their statement electronically.

However, many of the companies Computerworld spoke with had been unable to lodge their statements electronically due to ATO-end problems.

David Long, senior taxation adviser GST for Kmart, said: "The ATO system just wasn't in place to accept [the statement], so we lodged manually [before deadline]. We got advice through contacts and through anecdotal evidence, such as receiving the paper lodgement forms, that that was the way to go."

While a spokesperson for Coles Myer also said: "The problems were at [ATO's] end, not ours. But we are looking forward to hopefully lodging electronically next time."

While many companies had systems in place, others were still struggling to get the interface up and running.

Grant Bevan, corporate taxation manager for Boral, said it was unable to lodge electronically because it was still having problems setting up the software for the interface.

"The main problems were that the software from the ATO came out in July and we have a huge number of sites. It was also difficult getting feedback from the ATO of what was required and there were several late changes. The ATO said it would be easier for us to lodge manually anyway as we have so many sites."

"I know a lot of companies ended up lodging manually this time," Bevan said.

Despite some companies experiencing problems lodging electronically, all companies reported no difficulties making their GST payment electronically.

"Funnily enough, we had no problem paying the money electronically," Long said.

The ATO announced late last month that all companies that lodged their statement manually would not be required to pay the usually $550 penalty for not lodging online. This waiver only applies to the first lodgement.

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