A key indicator of the ATO's performance in managing objections and disputes generally (including litigation cases) is community perceptions of fairness.
We now better understand the drivers of taxpayers’ perceptions of fairness in disputes, enabling us to tailor services that meet client needs by:
- providing clear and meaningful communications about decisions – this is particularly important given that 75% of disputes involve taxpayers who have not previously been in a dispute with us
- ensuring ongoing engagement throughout the dispute, to provide a sense of control over how it is being handled
- introducing 'fairness champions' to promote a fair approach in every interaction
- providing specialised training to staff to improve the client experience, with a key focus on fair and respectful treatment.
Our success in implementing these strategies is measured by fewer matters progressing to litigation, as matters get resolved earlier. For example, 55% of in-house facilitations took place before assessments were issued, evidence of our commitment to resolving disputes earlier. Compliments and positive client feedback also confirm that the new approaches have made a difference in dispute management and resolution.
During 2015–16, the ATO worked with former Federal Court Judge and President of the AAT, the Hon. Garry Downes AM, on a project to design and trial independent assurance of settlements. The intent was to provide the community with assurance that settlements were undertaken fairly, reasonably and in line with legal principles. Two of our largest settlements were reviewed in the course of the project and found to be fair and reasonable.
The project also identified opportunities to improve our case documentation and refine the settlement assurance process, including confirming that a post-settlement decision review is the preferred and most practical approach to achieving the desired level of assurance. These improvements are now being implemented as part of an ongoing assurance process for 2016–17 settlements.