Tax & ATO News Australia

ATO has a broad power to access documents and obtain information

The ATO has a broad power under s264 (1)(a) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936(Cth) to request any person to furnish the ATO with information that the ATO may require.

 

In December 2010, the ATO issued ANZ Bank with two s264 notices requesting that ANZ provide details of more than 1,300 Vanuatu accounts held by Australia from its digital database called “Global Digital Warehouse”.
 
On 9 March 2012, the Federal Court of Australia handed down a decision in favour of the ATO that the two notices were valid. The Federal Court rejected ANZ’s submission that production of the information to the ATO would be oppressive, breach confidentiality and violate secrecy provisions enacted in Vanuatu.
 
ANZ then instituted an appeal in the Full Federal Court of Australia. On 12 September 2012, the Full Federal Court of Australia dismissed ANZ’s appeal and held that s264 authorises the ATO to issue a notice to ANZ requiring it to furnish information that is stored in Australia. The Full Court agreed with the Federal Court that the production of the information would not be oppressive, would not breach confidentiality nor breach the non-statutory obligations of confidence under the law of Vanatu.
 
While the appeal was dismissed, ANZ had a small victory in that the Full Court held that one of the notices was invalid due to uncertainty. However, due to the broad powers given to the ATO under s264, it is anticipated that the ATO will simply reissue the notice to obtain the information anyway.
 
This case demonstrates that s264 confers very broad investigative powers on the ATO. As such, this could implicate many other Australian businesses.
 
A notice under s264 should not be treated lightly. If you receive a notice, you are legally obliged to respond to the notice otherwise you may face serious consequences.  I would recommend anyone who receives such a notice to seek professional taxation advice immediately.
 

Posted in: Tax & ATO News Australia at 04 March 13

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Tax & ATO News Australia

Author: David Hughes

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