ATO tactics leaked
An ATO whistleblower has revealed internal complaints about debt recovery tactics at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The South Australian District Court has released a 50-page affidavit of former public servant Richard Doyle, who is applying to be declared immune from prosecution.
Mr Doyle is facing 24 criminal charges, including recording and disclosing public information, after he went public on unethical debt recovery techniques at the ATO in 2018.
He pleaded not guilty in 2020 and is yet to face trial.
The affidavit includes allegations that the ATO covered up serious maladministration and lied to Senate Estimates about his accusations.
The document also describes ATO staff’s feelings about garnishee orders - legal notices demanding debt payments - which it says were “onerous and oppressive” on taxpayers who had only small debts.
Mr Doyle alleges that in 2017, a colleague emailed 12 Adelaide ATO staff members stating: “The last 'hour of power' is upon us … that means you still have time to issue another five garnishees, right?”
Mr Boyle says garnishee orders were mandated, and staff were directed to issue them instead of a “point in time garnishee”, which had “less detrimental impact on [a] taxpayer's financial situation”.
“In August 2016, I emailed myself documenting a comment [made by a senior colleague] saying ‘for f***'s sake, I'm sick of taxpayers threatening suicide’,” he wrote in his affidavit.
“This is just one example of the bad culture at the ATO.
“A further example was in May 2016 when I was allocated a debt correspondence matter, I clearly recall the taxpayer saying words to the effect; ‘I am increasingly losing the will to live under the pressure’.
“I was disgusted at this callous lack of concern for this taxpayer's welfare.”
Mr Boyle allegedly made a public interest disclosure in-house with the ATO before making a complaint to the Taxation Ombudsman, when these paths lead nowhere, he took his allegations of maladministration at the ATO to the media.
The Inspector-General of Taxation found in 2019 that there were no systemic issues with the ATO's use of garnishee orders, but said staff needed to be better trained.