Taxman to increase online presence

The Australian Taxation Office expects four times as many people to lodge their tax returns electronically this year than in 1999.

E-Tax, available free of charge through the ATO website (http://www.ato.gov.au) from July, enables taxpayers to lodge their return over the net.

First released in 1999, E-Tax is the ATO's electronic income tax return preparation and lodgment software. It takes the user through an on-screen interview and automatically completes tax returns based on the answers. In addition to this, E-Tax provides an estimate of any refund or bill.

In its first year of release, the electronic form attracted more than 27,000 people. This year, the ATO expects around 100,000 returns to be lodged electronically, said John McCarthy, the ATO's director of electronic initiatives.

Apart from being available on the ATO's site, the form can be accessed from Telstra (http://www.telstra.com/money), Ninemsn (http://www.ninemsn.com/money), and MyFinance (http://www.myfinance.com.au). The ATO agreed to these sites' offers to host the E-Tax software, McCarthy said, but the relationship with these companies does not extend any further.

Although individual tax returns are due by the end of October, the online form will be available from July to November. McCarthy said that the usual late penalties will apply for returns lodged after October.

The benefits of lodging a tax return online include getting a refund within 14 days and having the opportunity to wait until December 1 before having to pay any bill, according to McCarthy.

"Doing an electronic tax return is particularly useful for people with mobility difficulties and for Australians living overseas," McCarthy said.

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