A former sheep shearer from the Goldfields-Esperance region, who almost lost thousands of dollars when an online tax agent service refused to release his full tax refund, is just one of 70 individual taxpayers and small business owners who have had their matters resolved by Curtin’s new pro-bono tax clinic.
Leonard Fulcher, 56, was in desperate need for help after the online tax agency he used withheld $6,000 of his full entitled refund.
“I sat on the phone all day, every day, for months. I rang everybody I could think of: the taxation office, consumer protection, the taxation board – but no one could remotely help me. I was at a dead end,” says Fulcher.
Eventually, an agency put Fulcher in touch with the Curtin Tax Clinic, where he was able to get advice from second- and third-year accounting or accounting and taxation students, who worked under the supervision of Clinic Director Annette Morgan and Curtin Law School lecturer Donovan Castelyn.
Not only did Fulcher get his money back – the students also realised that the tax agency had overcharged him for services and they drafted documentation to dispute the amount of the fee.
“The students and their supervisors were unbelievable. I had been trying to get my refund back for 12 weeks. They demanded the agency repay me and within 12 hours they got a response,” reveals Fulcher.
“I was very impressed with how polite and knowledgeable they were, especially since they’re going to be our future tax agents.
“I’ve actually written to other taxpayers affected by the agency and recommended they contact Curtin Tax Clinic as well.”
Since opening their doors on 2 July this year, the students and staff have dealt with 100 tax-related requests and resolved more than 70 of them.
Such requests have included resolving Australian Taxation Office audits, resolving matters related to the payment of income tax, requests for remission of penalties and requests for hardship allowance.
“That’s a huge number of requests for a tax clinic that’s only been opened for three months,” says Morgan, who has more than 35 years’ experience in the taxation industry.
“The fact that it’s free to members of the community and supported by our industry partners, including Greenstone Legal, McAulay Legal and Pitcher Partners, means there is no other pro-bono tax clinic like this being run out of a university or not-for-profit organisation in Australia.”
The clinic also gives participating students, who volunteer for one to two days a week as well as continuing their studies, the chance to increase their understanding of tax concerns facing the community and increase their employability by being immersed in a workplace setting.
“The opportunity to interact with clients, either by phone, email or in person, is one of the most beneficial aspects of the clinic,” says commerce and law double degree student Renee Correya.
“It has also played a crucial role in developing my interpersonal skills and my ability to communicate in a professional business environment.”
Fellow student and President of the Curtin Wall Street Club Sebastian Rosati adds: “I am personally grateful to work within the clinic and believe it gives Curtin a leading edge over other universities where students are looking to study tax, law or accounting.”
The Curtin Tax Clinic runs from 9am to 4pm weekdays.
For further information or to apply for assistance, visit the Curtin Tax Clinic website.