Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Sharing Business Data to support disaster recovery and economic recovery efforts

Throughout 2020, the ATO, through the Australian Business Register (ABR), provided core business data to local, state and Commonwealth government agencies to help them connect with businesses in their community.

During the 2019–20 Australian bushfires, ABR data was used by 55 government agencies to plan, prioritise and respond to the crisis. In the aftermath of the disaster, business data was used to identify affected businesses which urgently needed government funding and support.

Over the course of the COVID-19 response, ABR and taxation data was supplied to state governments to assist with pandemic modelling. The data was used to cross-reference job type and/or location of workers and businesses with the highest risk factors for contraction, transmission and movement of COVID-19.

ABR data is available to eligible government agencies and is mainly accessed through ABR Explorer, a free reporting and analytical tool. ABR Explorer allows government users to self-serve data and create custom queries, visualise and overlay business locations using satellite maps, and convert business data into graphs and charts to observe historical trends, either by postcodes or business type.

By allowing the download of pre-defined ABR data sets, users can incorporate the data into their own systems. This means that smaller agencies without mature data or IT capabilities are able to conduct simple but effective queries to discover and detect shifts, and understand trends, in communities and business activities.

Pre-issue Automated Operational Analytics

To support the community in getting their individual income tax return right the first time, the ATO uses automated solutions to rectify taxpayer errors or omissions.

The ATO has developed a number of operational analytics solutions and by using high-quality, third-party data as well as other information, the ATO will identify and automatically adjust the tax return within two days of receiving the return.

Once an income tax return has been automatically corrected by the operational analytics solution, a tailored script is generated providing taxpayer specific details about the adjustment made. The tailored script is used by ATO telephony staff if an individual calls querying the treatment. A short description of the adjustment made is also included in the assessment notice provided to the taxpayer.

If the taxpayer disagrees with the adjustment made or response provided by the telephony staff when they contact the ATO, then the ATO operative will escalate the call to a specialist area for a further review. If the individual disputes the ATO's pre-issue adjustment to the return with evidence of their claim then the automated treatment will be fully or partially reversed.

Since commencing the automated pre-issue compliance program in July 2017, the ATO has adjusted 1.4 million individual income tax returns, protecting approximately $684 million in revenue. Around 17% have called the ATO for an explanation of the reasons for the adjustment with less than 2% of treated returns escalated for a further review.

Getting the tax return right in the first instance avoids post-issue compliance work which generally involves amending the assessment and raising a tax shortfall amount with penalties and debit interest that the taxpayer would have to repay.

The Digital Partnership Office

The ATO is progressively enabling a digital ecosystem that facilitates the exchange of event-based, real-time data. This data can be used by multiple partners and shared with other authorised government agencies in order for individuals and businesses to meet their obligations, including tax and superannuation. The ATO is achieving this by working in partnership with a variety of digital providers to design, test and build new products and services that can be integrated into existing natural business systems (e.g. business or accounting software).

The ATO Digital Partnership Office was formed to manage and provide support to the rapidly growing number of Digital Service Providers (DSPs), all with varied demands, complexities and challenges.

These DSPs are software developers or digital intermediaries that contribute to the delivery of digital services which support individuals, tax professionals, businesses and super funds to meet their tax and superannuation obligations.

Figure 1 – Growth in our digital ecosystem
Figure 1

The ATO Digital Partnership Office guides and supports DSPs throughout the process of building ATO web services and APIs into their software products (see figure 2). This is mainly achieved through our:

  • Online Services Platform for DSPs: An online single point of entry for DSPs to access services and request support 24/7 (for example, log and track requests, share data, access reports and tailored information, etc.). This service enables the ATO to manage the growing number of DSPs and demand for API based services effectively.
  • DSP Operational Framework: A set of security requirements applied using a risk-based model, which all DSPs must meet in order to consume the ATO's digital services. This ensures appropriate controls are in place within the DSP environment to protect the integrity of the ATO's digital ecosystem and client data.
  • DSP Engagement model: provides a consistent approach to engaging, communicating and collaborating with DSP to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes.
Figure 2 – DSP development lifecycle
Figure 2

Text description of Figure 1 – Growth in our digital ecosystem

  • Paper/electronic partners (then)
    In the paper/analogue environment, tax professionals gre to be the key partner in the system
    • Tax professionals
    • Book keepers
    • Limited software providers
  • Digital partners (today)
    DSPs today are numerous and include a range of software developers and digital intermediaries that create connected software products
    • Tax professionals
    • Payroll service providers
    • Accounting software providers
    • Sending service providers
    • Superannuation funds
    • Digital gateways
    • Financial institutions
    • Other intermediaries
Growth in DSPs, APIs & Message Volumes
  2013–14 2017–18 2019–20 2020–21
Application Programming Interfaces 70 240 278 300
Digital Service Providers 17 140 490 590
Digital Message Volumes 140,000 154,000,000 780,000,000 900,000,000

Text description of Figure 2 – DSP development lifecycle

Life cycle of a Digital Service Provider

The diagram below provides an overarching view of the lifecycle followed by a Digital Service Provider developing Taxation, Superannuation or Payroll services in line with appropriate data standards.

  • Phase 1: Registration
    • DSP registers with the DPO
  • Between Phase 1 and Phase 2
    • DSP completes Operational Framework Security Questionnaire
  • Phase 2: Analysis / Build / Test
    • Pre-requisite: MyGovID must be linked to DSP Company
    • Access to Online Services for DSPs and Product ID granted
    • DSP builds and tests solution and requests Certification
  • Between Phase 2 and Phase 3
    • DSP is reviewed and approved against the Framework
  • Phase 3: Product Verification Testing
    • Conformance test review process begins
    • Conditional access to production granted
    • Solution tested and verified in production environment
    • DPO reviews, approves and certifies product
  • Phase 4: Go-Live
    • Annual Review Process starts
    • DSP product deployed to clients
Prepared for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet by the Australian Taxation Office.