Easy, efficient use of the Tax File Number by super funds is a bit like motherhood: everyone wants it, but obstacles abound in its achievement and execution, while myriad parties have vastly different opinions on the optimum way to achieve the desired results. PHILIPPA YELLAND reports. It’s Miss Lonelyheart’s nightmare out there in Lost Superland: 4.8 million accounts totalling $13.6 billion; a reluctant and misunderstood matchmaker named Tax File Number; and a crowded ballroom full of interested, but frustrated, relatives lobbying Great-Uncle Jeremy to announce the new rules for easier courting, marriage, divorce and re-marriage. His recommendations for the new guidelines lobbed early last week under the title “SuperStream: a proposal to bring the back office of super into the 21st century”. Tucked away on page 19 is one of the most telling recommendations: that “Treasury be tasked with preparing a Privacy Impact Assessment to help identify and assess any privacy impacts of the ‘SuperStream’ proposals adopted by the Government”. And then on page 22 is another telling comment which rests on one word: “if ”.
The comment says that “if the SuperStream recommendations are implemented, it is expected that over time the problem of lost members will diminish significantly. “However,” the report continues, “wider use of TFNs with other electronically available identifiers can accelerate the process of reducing the number of lost, inactive accounts.” If you move amongst the anxious guests at the Super Reform Ball, you’ll hear diametrically opposed whisperings about what the Tax File Number [TFN] can and can’t do, and who’s responsible for the current imbroglio. The centre of attention is super review chair Jeremy Cooper who is now tantalising observers with hints that he wants to “harness and use the TFN [for] rollovers and ERFs” and penalise employers financially if no number or the wrong number is supplied “because the member is losing money [due to] the employer’s mistake”. In one corner, there’s Aunty Fiona [aka Fiona Reynolds, AIST’s CEO] mixing her metaphors in her hopes for the TFN as the silver bullet which “has the potential to really kick some efficiency goals”.
In another huddle, there’s Uncle Mike [Mike Fielding, general manager of administrator SuperChoice] warning that the TFN is no such thing because “the issue is that, unless there is one single database, there will always be problems with data quality, matching and currency. The problem with one single database is that it’s like the Australia Card – ‘are they watching me?’ “ Elsewhere, the Australian Taxation Office [ATO] says it’s “not opposed to using TFNs to help funds match super accounts to individuals, rather the laws are very explicit about how a TFN can be used”, and then nervously refers any persistent suitors to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner [OPC]. The OPC demurs behind section 17 of the Privacy Act 1988, saying it’s not prescriptive legislation, “rather it offers principles about the way in which personal information should be handled, and each organisation needs to apply the principles to their own situation”.