It’s clear on the ATO website that electronic storage of paper records is acceptable:
This article from Addisons explains the big picture:
- including in the context of record keeping obligations of companies under the Corporations Act 2001; and
- refers to the general requirement that taxpayers keep their (Commonwealth) tax related documents for five years.
ATO record keeping requirements in detail are in Practice Statement Law Administration PS LA 2005/2. PS LA 2005/2 shows that the period for keeping records referred to in the article can be longer than five years in certain cases. Records of documents going back to when an asset was acquired, even if prior to the introduction of capital gains tax in 1985, need to be kept for five years after the CGT asset is disposed of. It is also apparent under PS LA 2005/2 that the ATO can impose a range of penalties for failure to keep records including referring cases for criminal prosecution to the DPP where they perceive deliberate falsifications of records.
The article shows how ATO record keeping requirements reflect the Electronic Transactions Act (C’th) 1999. In essence, section 12 states that electronic records of paper documents required to be kept under Commonwealth law are OK if the electronic system is capable of conveniently and adequately reproducing the paper record. That section is referred to and is in line with Taxation Ruling TR 2005/9 Income tax: record keeping – electronic records.
Implementing electronic tax records
A taxpayer fails these requirements, and risks penalty, if electronic records are lost. Using a backup system is critical whatever electronic system is being used. Moreover electronic records have ease of duplication and filing advantages that make electronic records preferable to paper records.
There are other risks of loss of electronic records that should be borne in mind. Export to other formats from legacy or crippleware systems is an imperative when the records can no longer be retrieved from computer software say because the software becomes, over time, no longer licensed, no longer runs in the taxpayer’s operating system environment or the software itself has inherent restraints on its archiving capability. Many modern bookkeeping systems have easy to use export features which can be worthwhile using as a failsafe to ensure compliance with record keeping obligations.
Is a tax invoice that is only electronic OK?
The position with tax invoices is clear. In para 12 of Goods and Services Tax Ruling 2013/1 the ATO states:
Tax invoices in electronic form
- A document in electronic form that meets the requirements of subsection 29-70(1) (and if applicable, subsections 48-57(1) and 54-50(1)), will be in the approved form for a tax invoice. [Footnote 9 – This record must be in English or readily accessible and easily convertible to English as required by subsection 382-5(8) of Schedule 1 to the TAA 1953.]