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ATO illegally attacks vulnerable self-employed people

In late 2017 the ATO suddenly withdrew the ABNs of 16 work-from-home, low-income, self-employed people. This immediately destroyed their incomes. It took almost 13 weeks of hard pressure before the ATO backed down.

Here’s the public policy issue with the gig economy

Here’s how the story (crisis) unfolded:

Early August 2017 – We receive a contact through our website from one of the affected people alerting us that the ATO is threatening to withdraw ABNs. We seek more information.

Early September 2017 – It becomes clear that the ATO attack regarding withdrawing ABNs is not isolated. Some 20-plus people seem to be affected. We swing into action.

14 September 2017 – The ATO formally cancels the ABNs.

Mid-September through to mid-November 2017:
– We mobilise our legal team who organise a legal defence for the affected people.
– We make contact with ‘channels’ in the ATO seeking discussions.
– Investigations by us show that all the people involved are declaring all their income and paying tax. So what’s the issue?
–We appeal to the ATO for a reason for the withdrawals. No response. Just bureaucratic blockages.
– Legal team does analysis of FOI-received ATO documents as to why the ABNs have been withdrawn. Analysis demonstrates that the ATO is flouting the very administrative law they are supposed to follow.
– We become fed up. We begin organising a multi-layered media campaign.
21 November 2017 – Media campaign begins. ‘The ATO thinks the earth is flat’ – we say on our website.

22 November 2017 - ‘The ATO is a frozen dinosaur’, we say.

29 November 2017 – Article in The Australian. ‘Vulnerable small business operators denied tax justice’.

2 December 2017 – Article in The Australian. ‘Opportunity to make money matters more than holding down a job’.

5 December 2017 – Article in The Adelaide Advertiser. 'Contractors bullied by ATO'

6 December 2017 – Adelaide Talk Back Radio. 'The ATO refuse(s) people the right to carry on business by …cancelling their ABNs. Can you believe that?!'

7 December 2017 – Adelaide Talk Back Radio. ‘She doesn’t know how she’s going to cover today’s mortgage’.

7 December 2017 – Article in The Australian. ‘The tax office should collect tax, not attempt to engineer business’.

8 December 2017 – Adelaide Talk Back Radio. ‘ATO to explain, but says “we cant talk about the case”’.

11 December 2017 – ABNs restored.

14 December 2017 – We thank our team for its great efforts.

Who are the people?

They are ordinary Australians who just happened to be picked on by the ATO, for no clear reason. They had done nothing wrong. They are mostly work-from-home women on very modest incomes.

Here’s are profiles of most of them.

Here’s just one profile in more detail:
Single woman in her sixties.
Centrelink benefits and supplements income with contracting work.
Hand-to-mouth existence.
She is very stressed and worried about her future.
Financial Implications of ABN cancellation
Now unable to supplement Centrelink pension.
Can’t get any other contracting work (bookkeeping etc) without her ABN.
Situation extremely precarious because Centrelink benefit is not enough to cover rent and utilities.

‘Thank you’ testimonials

We’ve been thanked by these people for our efforts


“In one day, I was no longer earning a living, looking after myself and my family… Thank goodness for Self-Employed Australia’s tireless endeavours … on behalf of the 20 transcriptionists affected by this decision by the ATO. [More...]

See here for the full testimonials.

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