Tax office service leaves a lot to be desired

IN Britain they are the Civil Service. As either Monty Python or the Young Ones once put it they neither provide service nor are remotely civil.

In fact, they went so far as to suggest that the most important qualification for joining the Civil Service is chronic misogyny.

In Australia our political forefathers avoided the problem and called our government employees the Public Service.

To those of us who are a bit noddy, that means we as members of the public can expect good service.

After all, we taxpayers pay their wages.

The extent of our naivety was laid before us last week in spades.

A Sydney architect copped a tax bill in 2006 of $200,000 including interest and penalties.

Misguided I should have said, as the demand was a bloody great mistake and the correct debt was just $8854.

Knowing the original bill was completely wrong Gary Kurzer spent eight long years fighting the ATO which eventually put the mistake down to "incorrect methodologies".

How hard was it for these public servants to get it right in the first place?

It was to do with the sale of two seaside units on NSW's central coast.

Capital gains tax can get pretty complex when we're dealing with things like rollover relief (when for example shares are swapped in a merger of two companies), but when you're dealing with simple mum and dad sales like this one, it's pretty straight forward.

What's happened for sure is that some clown in the ATO has made a terrible and obviously fundamental mistake given the numbers, and they've closed ranks behind him or her through to the top echelons of the place.

They defended their assessment in all sorts of forums including the Administrative Appeals Tribunal before giving in to Mr Kurzer.

Their reaction? Oops, we've used "incorrect methodologies", not the truth that officers employed in the ATO don't know the tax law they're supposed to be administering.

It's not that which has got up my nose. In fact it doesn't surprise me after many years in practice where we've taken on the ATO over mistakes in applying the law and won compensation for clients.

In fact, we've got one going right now where some fool in the ATO has signalled that he or she is unaware of the implications of the seminal 1970s High Court decision in the Everett case.

What gets up my nose is this.

Mr Kurzer claims he lost his business, his home and his marriage because of the stresses of fighting the botched bill and has lodged a claim for $5.8 million in damages over the ATO's alleged negligence.

According to Fairfax media, Mr Kurzer had this to say: "The tax office is allowed to collect what it is entitled to collect. It is not entitled to harass, to bully, to lie, to cheat, to force people into these situations when they don't owe the money."

But they do according to the legal papers lodged in the ATO's defence, just in case you are still deluded enough to think that they are there to provide service to the public.

The defence? Mr Kurzer's case is weak because the ATO does not owe him a duty of care! Got that?

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