In 2022, the ATO introduced a new trial system to link business owners and registered agents. The system has now been rolled out to most businesses and starts on 13 November 2023. Sole traders are exempt, but all other businesses must engage a registered agent via the new process.
Under the previous system, agents could connect an individual or business to their ATO registered agent online services. The new system requires business owners to nominate a specific agent.
This will tighten security, meaning that fraudulent agents, business owners or hackers will have a harder time creating sham accounts or returns with the extra controls linking agents to clients.
Client-Agent Linking Process
The process requires business owners to have an ATO online services for business account. Business owners must complete the agent nomination in their ATO account. Once the business owner has completed the nomination, they must notify the chosen agent, who can then link to the business and update details or change authorisations.
BAS and tax agents still need to verify the identity of a new client.
Once a business owner has nominated an agent, the agent has 28 days to add them to their client list in online services for agents. (Note – currently, the ATO information states seven days, but this will change on 13 November to 28 days).
Because the process must be completed by the business owner or their authorised representative, unfortunately, registered agents cannot do this on behalf of the business owner.
You may like to help a business owner through the process if they are new to ATO Online services for business. Alternatively, you can direct them to the ATO Client-agent linking steps for more details on nominating an agent.
There should be no change to existing client links; the new system should only apply to agents engaging new clients or business owners changing agents.
Business Owner Steps
- The business owner must first set up their digital identity with myGovID.
- The owner must then link their myGovID to their ABN using the Relationship Authorisation Manager (RAM).
- The owner can authorise others to act on their behalf as an authorised representative if necessary.
- Log in to ATO online services for business.
- Find their chosen registered agent using their registration number or by entering the exact name of the agent as per their myGovID.
- Nominate the agent.
- Alert the chosen agent they have nominated them.
Registered Agent Steps
- Complete client proof of identity verification in accordance with your practice’s procedures.
- Provide your client with instructions on the client-agent linking steps and the ATO agent nomination process.
- Provide your client with your registered agent number (RAN) and name as it appears on your myGovID. This will help them find you in Online services for business and ensure the authorisation is linked to the correct person.
- Provide your client with a copy of the linking steps or direct them to the ATO website. Refer them to support information and materials, or send them to client-agent linking steps.
- Remind your client to tell you when they’ve completed the nomination. You may not receive a system notification to tell you they have done the nomination. This is something the ATO plans to introduce later.
- Once your client completes the agent nomination, you’ll have 28 calendar days to add or update the client in Online services for agents or your practice software, as usual. Your client can extend the nomination if you cannot complete the linking step before the nomination expires.
- Ensure you link at the right level. If you link at the wrong level or to levels that result in duplicate access, you may remove a currently linked agent. If that happens, your client will need to re-nominate the other agent before they can re-link. If you are a tax or BAS agent with only STP reporting authorisation, you must be linked to the Activity statement – STP reporting level. For this authorisation, agents must use the ‘Add payroll only’ client menu in Online services for agents.
- Note that a business may elect to link different agents in different roles.
Maintain Authorisations for Tax Agents
Tax agents – did you know that you only need to tick the Income Tax account to access all functions in the ATO online services for business? This gives you access to all activity statement functions as well as tax services.
When you tick the Activity Statement box, you automatically unlink a BAS agent if one is already connected. You should only do this if the client has terminated the BAS agent engagement.
Leave the Activity Statement box unticked if there is an existing agent link listed.
If you are assisting a new client who also plans to nominate a BAS agent, you should instruct the client to assign you only to the income tax account.
BAS agents do not have the option to be linked to the Income Tax account, only the Activity Statement account.
Payroll service providers must be linked to Activity Statement – STP Reporting via the Payroll Only client menu in ATO Online services for agents.
Use GovReports to Interact with the ATO
While the system is designed to increase security and minimise the risk of cyber-attacks and agent fraud, it also means a potential increase in administrative burden for small business owners and registered agents.
GovReports has created a new template to streamline your process for new client engagements. This template provides instructions and ATO links for new clients. You can send this out after they have accepted your proposal and engagement. We recommend updating your engagement letter to let clients know of the new process required by the ATO.
Log into your GovReports account, go to My Practice > Templates & Letters, and you will see the Client Agent Linking Instructions letter template ready for you.Edit this template as you wish and save it for future use.
The new ATO process won’t affect functions within GovReports; all client details and access remain the same as you are used to. And once you are linked with a new client, you can access all the ATO functions as usual.
Remember that once you are linked with a client, you can interact with the ATO through GovReports. View the ATO Integrated Client Account, update client details, view ATO communications and check outstanding reports.