6.3.2 Tax file numbers & taxation information
Access to taxation information is essential for the effective assessment, collection and enforcement of child support. The Registrar is permitted to use tax file numbers (TFNs) to obtain and exchange information with the ATO.
CSRC Act section 16, section 16B, section 16C
CSA Act section 150, section 150B, section 150D
Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 section 202(ga)
Taxation Administration Act 1953 section 8WA, section 8WB, section 355-65
Privacy Act 1988 section 13, section 17, section 18
The child support legislation specifically refers to taxation information. For example, child support assessments are based on taxable income as assessed by the ATO, and the Registrar can collect debts by intercepting a tax refund. Services Australia also uses taxation information more generally for purposes related to the assessment, collection and enforcement of child support.
Authority to use taxation information
The exchange of information between Services Australia and the ATO is permitted by the secrecy provisions of the child support and taxation legislation (CSRC Act sections 16(2A), 16(3)(ca) and 16(6), CSA Act sections 150(2A), 150(3)(ca) and 150(6)). In addition, the child support legislation specifically authorises the Registrar to:
- request, but not compel, a person to provide a written statement of their TFN (CSRC Act section 16B, CSA Act section 150B),
- require the ATO to provide information the ATO possesses about people, including TFNs (CSRC Act section 16C(1), CSA Act section 150D(1)),
- use that information to identify a person to decide whether a person can apply for a child support assessment, make or amend a child support assessment and decide whether a terminating event has happened (CSA Act section 150D(2)), and
- use that information to identify a person to register and collect child support payments (CSRC Act section 16C(2)).
One of the objects of the TFN system is to facilitate the administration of the child support legislation (Income Tax Assessment Act section 202(ga)). The ATO can disclose protected information about taxpayers to Services Australia where the information is necessary for the administration of the child support legislation (Taxation Administration Act section 355-65).
The Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015
The Privacy Commissioner, in the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), issued the Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015 (TFN Rule) made under section 17 of the Privacy Act 1988, which regulates the collection, storage, use, disclosure, security and disposal of individuals' TFN information. The TFN Rule is legally binding and a breach of the rule is an interference with individual privacy under the Privacy Act. Individuals who consider their TFN information has been mishandled may make a complaint to the Information Commissioner. Where a breach of privacy is very serious, the Information Commissioner may seek to impose a civil penalty.
As well as constituting a breach of the TFN Rule, unauthorised use or disclosure of TFNs may constitute an offence under the Taxation Administration Act 1953, with a maximum penalty of an $18,000 fine (100 penalty units) or 2 years imprisonment, or both.
Services Australia is an authorised recipient of TFN information for the purposes of child support legislation.
The TFN Rule recognises that Services Australia uses TFNs for child support purposes and explains some of Services Australia's obligations when collecting and using them.
TFN queries or enquiries can be directed to Services Australia through their Contact us page.