By David Bates

This week, as you read this article, I’d like you to imagine you’re a small- to medium-sized business owner with a tax-related question.

Maybe you need to know whether super is payable to one of your casual employees, or perhaps you’re not sure whether a final payment to an employee counts as an eligible Employment Termination Payment.

While some businesses might have an accountant or bookkeeper on hand to answer these questions, many small- and medium-sized business owners would contact the ATO.

After searching for an answer online, you find a phone number for the ATO Advice Line and give them a call.

The person who answers is friendly and helpful. Their advice sounds simple and straightforward (‘great service!’, you think) and they even provide you with a reference number in case you need to get back to them with any follow-up questions.

Then, just as the call is coming to an end, the friendly advisor helpfully informs you the ATO recommends/endorses/is associated with a specific accounting firm who they’re sure can be of assistance to you.

They even offer to set up a ‘no obligation’ consultation for you.

The very next day, a representative from that accounting firm visits you at your workplace and answers all your questions. They let you know they’ve been fully-briefed about your concerns by the operator from the Advice Line you spoke with yesterday, and they’re keen to help in any way they can.

Their services are just $5,000 per year and they offer ‘complete peace of mind’. In fact, you never need to worry about accounting questions ever again, because they have insurance that covers everything. And, of course, their firm is recommended/endorsed/associated by/with the ATO.

Wow, does Government get any better than this!

Well, as my father always says, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Imagine how angry and misled you’d feel when you discover the number you originally rang belongs to the accounting firm (one of a number of phone numbers they advertise online) and that their firm is not recommended/endorsed/associated by/with the ATO! (After all, have you ever heard of a government department endorsing only one private sector provider of anything?).

Well, just replace ATO with the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) - and the accounting firm with an HR business - and you now know the business model of an aggressive ‘HR’ business making and receiving hundreds of calls to unwitting Australian business owners every day.

It’s shameful. It’s deceptive and misleading. And it’s making them a fortune.

You’d think the FWO would shut them down, wouldn’t you?