Taxpayer’s responsibilities and your tax file number


People using the self-assessment taxation system have obligations in relation to their tax returns and record maintenance. Given taxation is a complex area of law you may wish to seek advice from the Australian Taxation Office or a taxation lawyer. Taxpayers are required to have a tax file number.


Most taxpayers operate on a system of self-assessment, which means that you are responsible for preparing your tax return. It is your responsibility to maintain records; this is particularly important when you are claiming deductions, which are subject to strict substantiation requirements (i.e. you must be able to prove that an item you claimed as a deduction does exist and the amount claimed was correct).

The policy of self-assessment means that the ATO initially accepts at face value the information in your tax return. Therefore, you determine whether an item is an allowable deduction or assessable income. However, you should remember that interest and penalties may be imposed if you make a wrong decision.

The ATO conducts both systematic and random audits to ensure that taxpayers comply with their responsibilities. The conduct of an audit may vary but, if you are subject to one, you will be asked to produce all necessary documentary evidence to establish that your taxation returns have been prepared in a true and correct manner.

In general, if you follow the ATO’s guidelines when preparing your tax return, you will not be charged a penalty if you make an honest mistake. Also, you can rely on the rights provided in the Taxpayer’s Charter published by the ATO. It sets out your rights and obligations, as well as the ATO’s service standards, dealing with various topics, including confidentiality, fair and reasonable treatment, and truthfulness. You can obtain a copy of the Taxpayer’s Charter from the ATO’s website.

The need for professional advice

Taxation law is extremely lengthy and complex. This, plus your self-assessment responsibilities, means that it may be important for you to obtain professional taxation advice, particularly when completing a tax return. You may wish to consult a registered tax agent, although it may be appropriate to see a lawyer. You can obtain a tax deduction for amounts you spend in managing your tax affairs, including the preparation of your income tax returns by tax agents and the taxation advice you receive from tax agents and lawyers.

Individual taxpayers can use Tax Help (tel: 13 28 61), which is a free and confidential service provided by the ATO to help individuals prepare their tax returns.

Tax file numbers

All taxpayers are required to have a tax file number (TFN). Apart from serving as a means of identifying individual taxpayers, the number also helps the ATO collect tax that may otherwise escape the tax net.

If you are an employee, you are required to provide your employer with your TFN and, subject to some exceptions, you may choose to quote the TFN to investment bodies, such as banks, credit unions, building societies and companies issuing dividends. Unless an exemption applies, if you do not quote your TFN, tax will be deducted from interest and dividend payments at the highest marginal tax rate plus the Medicare levy under the PAYG system. The amount of tax deducted will reduce the amount of tax payable on your taxable income, but will not be refunded until an income tax return for the year is lodged.

Trustees of closely held trusts are required to lodge a “TFN report” by the end of the month following the quarter in which any new TFNs are notified to the trustees. For year-end distributions, TFN reports must be lodged by 31 July. Failure to report this information to the Tax Commissioner is an offence and may result in a fine of up to $4,500; the fine is calculated according to the size of the entity and the overdue period.

If a beneficiary has not notified the trustee of their TFN either verbally or in writing before a “payment” is made to them, including both a distribution of income of the trust or present entitlement, the trustee must withhold tax on that payment at the top marginal tax rate plus the Medicare levy and temporary budget levy. The trustee will need to apply for PAYG withholding, and lodge an “Annual TFN withholding report” by 30 September. Withheld amounts must be paid to the ATO by 28 October. The beneficiary can then claim a credit in their income tax return for any amounts withheld.