Tax Help: what is it?

If you are a low income earner, you may be aware that there are bonuses and rebates available to assist you with your income tax rate, but do you need help completing your income tax assessment? Would you like to know where to turn if you are unsure about how to make a claim? If you answered yes to either question, read on to learn about the government initiative Tax Help.

Tax help: Help with your tax assessment

Tax Help is a free and confidential service set up to help people complete their income tax assessment forms at tax time. The scheme is operated by a network of community volunteers trained by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and willing to give up their time to assist others with tax problems. The volunteers aren't ATO staff, but the ATO maintains that the volunteers gain proper training and ongoing support from the tax office. If you're making a bonus or rebate claim too, Tax Help volunteers can steer you in the right direction. Bonuses and valid rebates include Dependent Spouse tax offset, Private Health Insurance rebate, Baby Bonus rebate, Beneficiary Tax offset, Senior Australians tax offset, Zone tax offset, Salary Sacrifice arrangement (foregoing part of your salary for other benefits of a similar cost), and Net Medical Expenses tax offset.

Tax form help: Availability and non-lodgement

Some people on low incomes are not required to lodge tax return forms, and Tax Help volunteers can help determine if this is the case for you and assist with all non-lodgement issues. If this does apply to you and you submitted a tax return last year, you should also let the Tax Office know. It's worth noting that volunteers cannot help with business tax returns, partnership and trust matters, capital gains tax or rental property.

Tax Help isn't only available in Australia's capital cities either, with the initiative being increasingly available in regional centres across the country. In all cases, volunteers operate in convenient community centres, ensuring ease of visitation during the tax assessment period. Tax Help is not for everyone, however. Specifically set up for those on low incomes, including seniors, students, non-English speakers or those from non-English speaking backgrounds, people with a disability, Aboriginal people or Torres Strait Islander people, the program offers help to people who most need it.

Tax help eligibility

Given the complex nature of tax in general, the initiative is supposed to assist only on a basic level, focusing on straightforward tax returns. Tax Help volunteers can identify your income from:

  • Pensions
  • Government benefits
  • Salaries
  • Dividends
  • Managed funds
  • Interest

Eligibility for Tax Help is quite specific too. If you are a single person and your taxable income is $35,000 or less, or if you are married or de facto and your taxable income is $35,000 or less (plus $2,500 extra allowance for each child), or if you are a single parent earning $35,000 or less (plus $2,500 extra allowance for each child), then you can qualify for assistance from the Tax Help program. However, there are stipulations that apply, and you may not be eligible if in the previous income year you:

  • Were employed as a contractor
  • Were in business (including as a sole trader)
  • Sold shares
  • Sold an investment property
  • Owned a rental property
  • Received royalties
  • Received distributions from a trust (other than a managed fund)
  • Received foreign income (other than a foreign pension or annuity)

If any of these conditions apply to you, fear not, there are other options.

Online tax help: E-tax

Preparing and lodging your own tax assessment return form electronically is fairly easy, over 1.9 million Australians lodged their tax online in 2007. E-tax offers free preparation and lodgement of your return, a built-in help service, a safe and secure system and the processing of most rebates or refunds within 14 days. Perhaps most importantly, using E-tax means that tax debts are not due before 21 November (even with tax return forms lodged as early as July). The ATO site also gives you easier access to your Medicare tax information, your 30% child care tax rebate details, and allows you to download your Centrelink payment summary.

Income tax return help for students

Tax Help schemes are available for low-income students also, and students only need bring a copy of the "Tax Pack" and any relevant group or PAYG certificates. Some universities even allow you to become a Tax Help volunteer via their own Guild Education & Welfare Officer (who contacts the ATO on your behalf to facilitate training). Check with your local university to see if they offer this program if you're interested. Such programs run between July and October, correlating with tax time, naturally.

Filling out your tax return assessment form needn't be a task you undertake alone. E-tax, the ATO's online income tax form submission, offers tax returns help and a handy tax calculator, but if you'd prefer to submit your tax return in the traditional way, and you fit the criteria, the Tax Help scheme of trained volunteers offering tax preparation help could take the sting out of tax time for you this year.

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