Legislation for the Tax Agent Services Act 2009 has been drafted and is intended to be enacted early in 2010. The new regulations will see that bookkeepers who are currently preparing and lodging Business Activity Statements (BAS) for a fee are now required to meet standard eligibility criteria and must be registered to perform those services.

The new laws will provide a standardised system for the bookkeeping industry and calls on practitioners to achieve and maintain the highest levels of qualification and experience. There is the opinion that of course these qualifications and experience exist already within the industry but the formalisation of the requirements is not only of benefit to the bookkeepers themselves but to consumers as well. The industry benefits from knowing that its members are operating to the highest of standards and consumers are able to feel confident that their bookkeeper possesses a relevant and up-to-date skill set and has the support of his or her industry as they have proven themselves by meeting the registration criteria.

Specifically, the new legislation will only directly impact on bookkeepers who are involved with preparing and lodging BAS. Those who are involved in data inputting to compile a report for the purpose of completing and submitting a BAS can continue to do so under the new laws without being registered but their duties are limited to that task only. However, where large businesses are concerned it is not always necessary for each individual to meet the criteria and be registered independently. Provided that the business is seen to have a satisfactory number of registered individuals and the BAS preparation process is being supervised by those registered bookkeepers or BAS/tax agents then this considered acceptable practice. As part of the introduction of the legislation a Tax Practitioners Board will be established and they will be able to provide more clarity on this and other matters.

The laws will also see the introduction of a Code of Professional Conduct which again formalises the expected actions of bookkeeping professionals that those engaging bookkeeping services expect and deserve on all occasions. Areas addressed by the code include: honesty and integrity, independence, confidentiality and competence.

In addition to standardising practices, the Act will introduce strict civil sanctions resulting in substantial fines for any bookkeepers who continue to prepare and lodge BAS without the required registration.

For consumers who employ the services of a bookkeeper the pending changes are of benefit in that it will now be easier to locate and identify accredited professionals and if there are any doubts as to the status of existing providers it will be easy to hold them accountable and move to a new bookkeeper if they do not meet the minimum requirements. Of additional benefit is the ‘safe harbour’ provisions of the new Act. Under the proposed new legislation, taxpayers are protected from having to pay administrative penalties for late lodgment or making a false or misleading declaration on the condition that they engaged a registered BAS agent and provided them with all the relevant information to enable the preparation of the document.

Consumers can choose registered BAS agents knowing that they meet the following eligibility for registration criteria:
• Applicants must be considered a ‘fit and proper person’ – generally this is determined by considering if, in the past 5 years, the individual has  convictions for a serious tax offence, fraud or dishonesty, has become an undischarged bankrupt or has served a term of imprisonment. Any of these will result in the rejection of a registration application or the discontinuation of an existing registration.
• Qualifications and Experience – individuals must have at least a Certificate IV in Financial Services (Accounting) or (Bookkeeping) from an accredited institution where the course required successful completion of basic GST and BAS taxation principles and must have undertaken at least 1400 hours of relevant experience in the past 3 years.

Registration is valid for a period of 3 years and re-registration or renewal requires the same qualification and experience checks as for initial registration.

As practicing accountants and tax agents the bookkeepers at Quinn Consultants will all be compliant under the proposed legislation. For expert bookkeeping, tax and accounting advice contact us on 1300 QUINNS or click here to submit an online enquiry.