Electronic tax pack use skyrockets

The popularity of the E-tax pack with Australian taxpayers has led the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to predict over 800,000 lodgements will be made electronically in 2003.

Although the ATO initially forecast 800,000 Australians would use e-tax in 2003, ATO national director of e-tax Paul Gregg said “indications are that we will exceed this”.

According to Gregg, a survey of those who had used e-tax in 2002 showed 93 per cent would elect to submit their tax return electronically again this year. Last year, the ATO received 550,000 tax returns through e-tax, up from 70,000 submissions in 2001.

Additionally, “96 per cent said they’d recommend using e-tax to their family and friends,” Gregg said.

First released in 1999, e-tax is an electronic version of the ATO’s income tax pack, which gives taxpayers the ability to lodge tax returns via the Internet. The free program consists of a downloadable e-tax application, an online verification of identity process and a secured Internet lodgement facility that is based on 128-bit SSL encryption.

E-tax pack not so easy-to-use

Despite the ATO’s claims of e-tax’s success, disgruntled user “Roy” said his experience with e-tax wasn’t quite so rosy because of its incompatibility with networked PCs.

Commenting on the software to PC World, Roy said the biggest concern was that the e-tax software lodgement process did not work behind the majority of corporate firewalls.

Roy said while the program initially checks your “security” settings to ensure your browser has adequate encryption in place before installing the e-tax software, there is no built-in mechanism for ensuring users will be able to lodge their final application through their corporate firewall.

“Anyone (like me – who spent seven hours entering their data), who tries to send off their tax return at the end of this process [lodgement] and is behind a corporate firewall probably won’t get through and they have effectively wasted their time,” he said.

Although the ATO states on its Web site that e-tax is primarily designed for use on a “stand-alone PC”, Roy said programs are not normally designed to be used in this fashion.

“They are using this as an excuse due to the problems they are having.”

Gregg rejected the notion there was a problem. He said the e-tax software will work on both stand-alone and networked computers, but that the user could be impeded by the manner with which their network permissions have been set up.

“The downloaded file tax2003_1 is an executable file that will install when the user double-clicks on the file,” he said.

“By default the installer creates a folder (etax2003) on the C: drive. The user also has the opportunity to choose a drive letter for installation. The functionality of the e-tax software will be affected if the user creates a sub-directory in their home directory, and copies the e-tax application into that folder, or renames the software.”

Gregg further outlined three possible impediments to using e-tax on a networked PC from the user’s end:

- Permissions to download and install software on the hard disk or network drive

- Permission to create and modify the tax return files that are created by the e-tax software

- The ability to exchange data over a secure Internet session with the e-tax servers for verification, auto-complete and lodgement.

Roy said the ATO’s software “should check the firewall proxy situation (with a simple test) before it allows you to waste your time entering all your details”.

Responding to this suggestion, Gregg said if the software were to try and cater to all types of firewall situations across business networks, it could very well become unmanageable.

“There are so many permissions you’d have to cater for that it would become unworkable,” he said.

While confident in the e-tax product, Gregg said the ATO is continuing its research and develop ways of further improving the electronic lodgement system.

One initiative currently in the pipelines is to turn the e-tax package into a Web-based application by 2005.

“Many of the current problems with the downloadable application will then disappear,” he said.

The ATO has also made changes to the e-tax navigation features in a bid to improve the user design and functionality, he said. Users now also have the option of copying some of their details from their 2002 e-tax statement into the 2003 software.

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Nadia Cameron

Nadia Cameron

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