Tax firm makes official complaint to ATO
A Gladstone accountancy firm, which represents hundreds of Curtis Island Bechtel workers, has lodged a formal complaint with the national tax office.
The ATO last year issued threats to close to 10000 Curtis Island Bechtel workers demanding that they amend their tax returns.
They were 'false claims', an accusation that Corporate Accountants disputes.
The accounting firm sent a letter to the ATO late last year, suggesting the auditing of Bechtel employees was in "utter disarray and was a disgraceful exercise in offending taxpayers' rights to privacy.
"We are receiving complaints from clients that private and confidential tax information is being sent by the ATO to incorrect addresses, that clients are being matched to incorrect private addresses and that private and confidential tax information is being sent, which is an incorrect representation of the claims they actually made and patently belong to another taxpayer whose details appear on the advice."
The letter demands that the Bechtel audit be aborted.
Initially the letter was sent to the Taxpayer Ombudsman, who then responded that they no longer adjudicate disputes between taxpayers and the tax office.
Apart from making requests for further information, no action has been taken by the ATO to remedy the situation, according to Corporate Accounts' senior partner Naomi Faivalu.
"It is now two months on," she said
"This long and unconscionable delay is consistent with the ATO's approach to answering objections to tax assessments this firm lodged about 12 months ago.
"It appears the ATO mantra is 'delay, delay, delay; and the problem will go away'."
Ms Faivalu said if the "disgraceful treatment" of Bechtel workers was any guide, the implied guarantee of privacy under the Privacy Act and Taxpayers Charter would "matter not a whit in the hands of the tax commissioner and his incompetent officials".
She said nine clients had contacted the company who had received ATO letters advising of adjusted tax returns which had been sent to incorrect addresses, "but we believe there are many more out there just handed over their letters from the ATO to the correct person at work".
"They just hoped their own letter would eventually show up. This is just not good enough," she said. "The letters contained personal information and tax file numbers which could potentially open up the gates for fraud if the letters got into the wrong hands."
She said the company was also aware of three instances where Bechtel employees had received letters advising of adjustments with incorrect work related expenses, only to have a further letter three days later stating correct amounts.
"Once again these are the ones that were brought to our attention. There may well be others out there."
A spokesperson from the ATO said in a written statement to The Observer that the office took taxpayer privacy seriously and continued to work with Bechtel employees and their agents in relation to work-related expense claims.
"If Bechtel employees and their agents wish to discuss their circumstances, they can ring us on 1300 768 912 or email us at Bechtelemployees@ato.gov.au, she wrote.
She said due to confidentiality provisions in the tax act the ATO did not comment on any specific cases relating to individual's or entity's tax affairs.