e-tax service a hit

The number of tax payers who have lodged their tax returns via the Australian Taxation Office's (ATO) e-tax software package in July has doubled since the same period last year.

The ATO says almost 150,000 Australians have lodged their tax return on the Internet so far this year, compared with 70,000 in July 2001.

Based on July figures, as well as last year's overall results, ATO spokesperson Caroline Hamilton says the ATO is predicting between 500,000 and 600,000 people will use the e-tax service this year. This is nearly twice the 280,000 tax payers who submitted their return via e-tax in 2001, and more than four times the 117,000 tax payers who used it in 2000.

Hamilton says one of the main benefits of compiling tax information online is that it reduces the level of error involved.

"People who do their tax on paper are more likely to leave a section incomplete," she said. "e-tax, however, won't let you do this."

Unlike paper submissions, error is further reduced because the e-tax software transacts directly with the ATO's system. As a result, online users can expect to get their tax return up to four weeks sooner than those who have completed a paper return (usually within 14 days).

Although the ATO produced the same number of paper Tax Packs this year as for 2001, Hamilton says the e-tax system is here to stay, and is set to become the mainstream way of lodging tax returns in the future. According to the ATO's survey of last year's e-tax users, around 94 per cent said they would use the e-tax service again this year. Users were diverse, ranging from teenagers to grandparents.e-tax, which was released in 1999, consists of a software program, an online verification of identity process, and a secured Internet lodgment facility. In order to improve download times, the ATO has separated some of the bigger and more specific sections into modules that can be downloaded separately. These include the Capital Gains Tax module, the Family tax benefit module and the Publications and Rulings module.

Hits to the ATO's e-tax Web site also reflect increasing interest in the software package. According to recently released figures from online intelligence services company Hitwise, the e-tax Web site rose nearly 3000 places to become the 55th most popular Australian site during July. This is 18 spots higher than the same time last year, and represents a 0.20 per cent share of all Australian Internet traffic.

The main ATO Web site also achieved its highest ever monthly ranking this year, becoming the 34th most visited Australian site during July.

The Tax Office's e-tax package is free and available from www.ato.gov.au until 9 December 2002. Returns, however, are due at the Tax Office by 31 October.

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