The community’s vulnerable groups and individuals are receiving free tax advice and future tax experts are gaining valuable experience thanks to a university initiative.
The University of Canberra (UC) Tax Clinic is currently open two days a week servicing small businesses, not-for-profit organisations, charities and vulnerable individuals who can’t access or afford professional advice from a tax agent.
The clinic has received enough funding from the Australian Government’s National Tax Clinic Program to run year-round for three years, which Canberra Law School lecturer and UC Tax Clinic manager Carole Grey hopes will be just the beginning.
“We’re currently providing about 10 clients free, independent and confidential tax advice per week,” Ms Grey says. “As we become better known in the community this number will increase and that will inform any changes to opening hours.
“We’ve decided to open all year, not just during tax season because people unfamiliar with their obligations and tax processes can face issues at any time.”
Ms Grey says the clinic can go a long way to helping people who’ve fallen behind or can’t access or afford professional tax services.
“For example, small businesses are a key driver of the economy, but sometimes they get into trouble and aren’t in a position to afford a professional agent,” she says.
“It’s important they understand their tax obligations and how those fit in with their broader cashflow planning. We can assist with that financial literacy.”
Ms Grey says the clinic’s eligibility requirements are broad enough to help a wide range of individuals.
“These could include low-income earners, people from non-English speaking backgrounds or even those who have personal issues in their lives,” she says.
“A domestic violence survivor, for example, might be forced to leave home – but their tax obligations won’t go away. Due to the nature of domestic violence, they may not have the money they need to access professional services.”
The clinic’s wide range of services include assistance applying for a Tax File Number (TFN), Australian Business Number (ABN) and GST registration; advice regarding a taxpayer’s rights and obligations under Australian tax law; completing current and prior year tax returns; completing current and outstanding business activity statements (BAS); managing debts and disputes with the ATO; and setting up a payment plan.
The clinic also provides a real-life work integrated learning experience for participating students, fully supervised by a registered tax agent.
“We currently have three participating students, and they’ve been busy,” Ms Grey says.
One of those students is third-year accounting and finance student Arham Hasan, who aspires to be an internal auditor or tax agent.
Working at the clinic aligns perfectly with Mr Hasan’s professional ambitions and could benefit his degree and work experience requirements. But he says the biggest reward comes from what it brings to clients.
“It’s a way of giving back to the community,” he says.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and confusing information out there as to how to handle your taxes, or people can go to a tax agent and get charged ridiculous fees.
“We provide authentic information and it’s free of charge.”
Mr Hasan, whose advice recently secured a client a much-needed $3000 refund from unduly-paid Medicare levies, says the opportunity has helped build his client communication skills and knowledge around tax processes and managing data.
“I was nervous at first but all our sessions are supervised by a registered tax agent … I feel confident now dealing with all manner of tax enquiries.”
The clinic could run indefinitely as demand grows, incorporating volunteers and perhaps expanding into regional areas.
But for now, Ms Grey says the goal is to become a trusted partner for giving advice that helps small businesses and financially vulnerable people understand their tax obligations and manage their personal taxation affairs.
The University of Canberra Tax Clinic operates online Mondays and Thursdays from 10 am to 2 pm. Visit the website.