Looking to save time when signing bulk tax returns / activity statements for your managements?


Each year (and often each quarter if a manager has several GST registered schemes in their portfolio), a strata manager is requested to sign tax returns and/or activity statements on behalf of their clients in order for their accountant to lodge the documents.  It's a requirement of tax agents to receive a valid declaration each time they lodge a return on behalf of a client.

The default position for signing such documents is to receive the returns from the accountant via email, print them, sign them, scan them and resend them to the accountant for lodgement.  Rather cumbersome at best. Downright annoying at worst... but it's just a necessary evil right?

Well, 'no' actually.  There are a few very simple options out there that can save you some time:


Digital Signatures

The Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (ETA) allows for signatures to be made electronically so long as some basic conditions are met... namely that the receiver (in this case the accountant) consents to the process and has an acceptable means of identifying the person signing (in this case, the strata manager).

Therefore, to save on time (and printer ink!) it can be worthwhile to set up a digital signature via a free program like Adobe Reader DC.  The setup is a once-off process and will save you time not only in signing tax returns and activity statements but other documents also.

Click here for a short demonstration video that we've found on Youtube of how to set up a digital signature in Adobe Reader DC.


Inbuilt Digital Signatures

Taking Digital Signatures a step further, this handy feature is now often inbuilt into accounting software whereby you, as the manager simply receive an email with a link that takes you directly to a page for signing online.  The signature can be added via your mouse, adding a pre-saved scan of your actual signature or even via your finger (if accessed on your smartphone).  Best of all, it requires no downloading or re-sending of the original document to the accountant. 

Not all accounting software has this feature.  The main one that does is Xero but it also depends if the accounting firm in question has updated it's way of doing things to take advantage of this feature.  Unfortunately, our profession can often be notoriously slow in adopting new technology.

FYI - Ascend do allow for electronic signatures with strata tax return lodgements.


Super Short Cut for Bulk Signatures

Yes, digital signatures are fantastic uses of modern technology but sometimes, it's actually better to find a more organic solution rather than trying to keep up with trends. 

The actual wording in sections 9 and 10 of the ETA when it comes to electronic lodgement declarations is that the Tax Agent is required to obtain a 'declaration' from their client before each lodgement. A 'declaration' is not the same as a 'signature'.  The actual requirements per the ETA for a valid declaration include:

  1. Any declaration authorises the agent to lodge and that the information provided to prepare the document was true and correct;
  2. The Tax Agent to consent to receive the delcaration electronically; and
  3. That a reasonable method be applied by the agent to identify the person's declaration

In the majority of circumstances, an email address that has been previously confirmed as belonging to the manager can suffice as a 'reasonable method' of identification.  This fact has even been previously confirmed by the ATO in their own published advice to the Tax Agent profession yet hardly any tax professional seems to take advantage of it.

So... as opposed to just applying the accountant's default of asking the strata manager to sign each and every return where indicated, why not arrange for the manager to simply send a single email with a list of the entities and / or tax periods required?  So long as it's structured correctly to meet the requirements of the ETA, it is an infinitely simpler and more efficient means of providing consent when a large number of documents are involved.

Ascend Business Accountants have already implemented this practice for our strata manager partners but it is available to each and every tax agent in Australia.  So, if you're a strata manager who's accountant continues to request you sign tax returns individually, perhaps explore this option with them (or better yet, contact us :)   ).



- Electronic Transactions Act 1999


The above content is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as professional advice. Ascend encourages readers to seek advice from suitably qualified professionals in relation to their specific circumstances and not to rely solely on the information provided above.  Please contact our office for more information.

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