The question of existence has fascinated students of philosophy for centuries. In the fifteenth century Rene Descartes produced the famous philosophical conclusion “cogito ergo sum”. Or in English “I think therefore I am”. My wife has been thinking a lot of late, particularly about the Tax Office web site. She’s been talking to them too, at some length and in clear terms. None the less the Tax Office web site has concluded that she does not exist.
The problem started three years ago when we faced up to the challenge of completing our annual tax forms online. The site repeatedly declared that my wife could not be recognised. After more than four hours of telephone calls, waiting for a response and being passed from one person to another she finally negotiated 24 hours of temporary access to complete her annual return. 24 hours was the maximum that particular representative could grant but she did promise that the matter would be resolved in the longer term. There was no indication of why the problem had occurred and everyone agreed that her previous tax returns had been completed accurately.
The one good thing which came out of the wasted time and frustration was that one of the many people she spoke to identified that there was a refund from the previous year that had also disappeared from sight and had not been paid. The modest refund went some way to ease the frustration. The return was filed in the 24 hours then allowed, and in the following months we checked the site several times. My wife tried, and I tried, using her code. We could gain access to the myGov web site and to the health section of that site so the code was correct. We could not gain access to the tax section and in 2017/18 the process of phone calls began again.
As the time to file her 2018/2019 return drew closer my wife took up the challenge again. Many calls, numerous different operatives, press 1 for ‘this’ press 2 for ‘that’ and press 3 ‘if you don’t exist’. Finally, the truth emerged. She had been blocked and the block appears to be permanent. It appears that the company which, for a short while, dealt with our own and our SMSF’s accounting and tax obligations had suffered a Cyber attack and there is a concern that critical client details including hers might have been stolen. As a consequence, all access to my wife’s tax files have been blocked. This time she was given a special phone number to gain 24 hours of access without the many phone calls. It actually worked and the tax return was successfully lodged. There are two interesting, if frustrating, aspects to this situation.
The first and most amazing is that there appears to be no attempt to produce a solution. My wife will cease to exist as far as the Tax Office is concerned apart from 24 hours a year by negotiation. It seems to be impossible for the Tax Office to change the identity code which we are all allotted once we start to work. It seems impossible to change the passwords. Just an acceptance that the problem exists and that it has no solution. I’m sure a commercial organization anxious for business would have it fixed in no time. The accounting practice concerned is not small so it is fair to assume that there are numerous other people with the same problem. It also seems likely that more than one accounting practice would be involved so just how many Australians no longer exist from a tax point view?
The second interesting thing is that our erstwhile accounting company did exactly the same work for me. They completed my tax return and looked after my side of our SMSF. How is it that I escaped the ban? Is it reasonably possible that my wife’s information was stolen and mine was not? I’m a bit concerned that some mysterious owner of an internet connection is sitting on my information just waiting for the opportunity to use it.
If we owed a lot of tax it would be nice to be invisible to the tax authorities but, like so many retirees we enjoy those wonderful imputation credits. It makes taking on the challenge of the government web site worthwhile. To be fair to the people who manage the myGov web site the Tax section is much improved this year. Much simpler to navigate without endless sections for information irrelevant to the average individual. I congratulate them.
We have lodged our returns and received our refund for 2018/2019. Will my wife exist next year? That remains to be seen.