Background: Prior to the introduction of GST into Australia a bookkeeper's job was mainly one of keeping the books up to what was known as “trial balance stage.” It did not matter whether the bookkeeper was employed or contracted to the business.

This all changed in 2000 when not only was GST introduced but the ATO introduced the Business Activity Statement (BAS) which required business’s to report monthly or quarterly on their GST, PAYG, FBT and provisional tax obligations.

Overnight a bookkeepers role changed to one of keeping the books and preparing the BAS. For the employed bookkeeper life continued to be reasonably straight forward – they continued to keep the books and in addition either lodged the BAS for the business owner or sent it to the Accountant for completion or checking and lodgement.

 Contract Bookkeepers: However for contract bookkeepers things were very different. Many business owners were too small to justify employing a bookkeeper and consequently opted to use a Contract bookkeeper for as many hours as was required. Other business owners balked at paying their Accountant the same high fee that they charged for doing Income Tax returns for completing the BAS.

As a result of this demand the number of “contract bookkeepers’ grew enormously and before anyone realised it around 8% of all BAS returns were being lodged with the assistance of a contract bookkeeper.

Some people and organisations think that it is possible to be a Contract bookkeeper without giving GST or BAS advice – in other words only “keeping the books.” They are dreaming. Whilst business owners may want their bookkeepers to be everything from a filing clerk to a marriage counsellor the core reason for hiring a Contract bookkeeper is to do the BAS.

 The old legislation — Income Tax Assessment Act of 1936: For the first couple of years after the introduction of GST Contract bookkeepers happily went about their business of “doing the BAS” and charging their clients a fee for their service.

Then one day someone realised that a BAS return was a Tax return and that under section 251L of the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1936 (ITAA36) a bookkeeper may not take a fee for giving “tax advice” (e.g. GST, PAYG, FBT etc) or lodging a BAS return unless they are either:

  • working under the direction of a Registered Tax Agent or

  • are a member of one of the following seven recognised professional accounting associations:

    • CPA Australia (CPA)

    • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA)

    • National Institute of Accountants (NIA)

    • Association of Taxation & Management Accountants (ATMA)

    • Taxation Institute of Australia (TIA)

    • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

    • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Furthermore to be in breach of the Act is a criminal offence subject to a $22,000 fine.

Well this realisation has been a slow happening and even today many bookkeepers do not realise that they have been breaking the law – or they think they have been getting around the law by various slight of hand which would be unlikely to hold up in court. The reality is that the only reason that bookkeepers are getting away with it is because the ATO has not appeared to want to prosecute bookkeepers under the “old”  ITAA36 law.

 Enter the new legislation — Tax Agent Services Act 2009 which:

  1. Recognises the importance of Contract bookkeepers to the BAS system

  2. Defines the meaning of a BAS Service as a service:

          a)    that relates to:

  • ascertaining the liabilities, obligations or entitlements of an entity that arise, or could arise, under a *BAS provision; or

  • advising an entity about the liabilities, obligations or entitlements of the entity or another entity that arise, or could arise, under a BAS provision; or

  • representing an entity in their dealings with the Commissioner in relation to a BAS provision [e.g. lodging a BAS return]; and

          b)    that is provided in circumstances where the entity can reasonably be expected to rely on the service.

  • Defines a person registered to give BAS advice and lodge BAS returns as a “BAS Agent”

  • Defines the qualifications required by a BAS Agent

  • Defines the relevant experience required by a BAS Agent

  • Prescribes that a BAS Agent must hold professional indemnity insurance

  • Prescribes a Code of Professional Conduct for BAS Agents

  • Prescribes a civil penalty provision which will enable fines of up to $27,500 to be inflicted on non-registered bookkeepers posing as BAS Agents by the issue of a notice rather than the current criminal fine which requires a court appearance

  • Details the Transitional provisions from the “current” law to the “new’ law

The tax agent services legislative package consists of the:

The “commencement date” of the new law was 1 March 2010 and it is expected that the law will not only be enforced by the Tax Practitioners Board (referred to hereafter as just the "Board" or as TPB) but also by registered BAS Agents “dobbing in” non-registered bookkeepers offering BAS services.

 The new rules for all entrants to the bookkeeping industry: For bookkeepers entering the industry after after the 1st September 2010 (whether they have any bookkeeping experience or not and whether they have been running a contract bookkeeping business in the past or not) there will be a significant “barrier to entry” in that they must:

  • hold one of the following academic qualifications

    • Certificate IV in Financial Services (Bookkeeping or Accounting) or higher award, from a registered training organisation or equivalent institution that includes the successful completion of a course in basic goods and services tax/BAS taxation principles;

  • and

    • be able to prove that they have undertaken at least 1,400 hours of relevant experience (that is work by an individual as a registered agent or work under the supervision and control of a registered agent) in the preceding three years.

  • or is a voting member of an RPA and has undertaken at least 1,000 hours of relevant experience in the preceding three years.

Relevant experience means work by an individual:

  1. as a tax agent or BAS agent registered under the TASA 2009
  2. as a tax agent registered under Part VIIA of the ITAA 1936
  3. under the supervision and control of a tax agent or BAS agent registered under the TASA 2009
  4. under the supervision and control of a tax agent registered under Part VIIA of the ITAA 1936
  5. of another kind approved by the Tax Practitioners Board

in the course of which the individual's work* has included substantial involvement in one or more types of BAS services.

*'Work by an individual of a kind approved by the Board' is a matter for the Board to determine.

See Schedule 2, Part 1, Division 2, item 103 of TAS Regulations 2009.


Definition of a course in basic goods and services tax/BAS taxation principles:

The TPB has issued a "BAS Agent Registration Skill Set" for persons who are seeking registration as a BAS Agent with the Tax Practitioners Board in which they advise that the following units meet the requirements for “a course in basic GST/BAS taxation principles that is approved by the Board”, which is one of the educational requirements for registration as a BAS agent with the Tax Practitioners Board:

  • FNSBKG404A Cary out business activity and instalment activity statement task

  • FNSBKG405A Establish and maintain a payroll system

The TPB also advise that persons seeking BAS agent registration should check with the Tax Practitioners Board for details of other current registration requirements, including those relating to experience, fitness and propriety.

These two units form part of the BIA Certificate IV in Bookkeeping and can also be studied as individual units.

What is a BAS service:

Under the TASA 2009, a BAS service is a tax agent service that relates to:

  • ascertaining or advising an entity about the liabilities, obligations or entitlements of the entity, or another entity, that arise, or could arise, under a BAS provision

  • representing an entity in dealings with the Commissioner in relation to a BAS provision

that is provided in circumstances where the entity can reasonably be expected to rely on the service for the purpose of

  • satisfying liabilities or obligations that arise, or could arise, under a BAS provision, or

  • to claim entitlements that arise, or could arise, under a BAS provision.

A BAS service therefore includes, but is not limited to:

  • preparing or lodging an approved form about a taxpayer's liabilities, obligations or entitlements under a BAS provision

  • giving a taxpayer advice about a BAS provision that the taxpayer can reasonably be expected to rely upon to satisfy their obligations

  • dealing with the Commissioner on behalf of a taxpayer in relation to a BAS provision.

See section 90-10 of the TASA 2009.

What is a BAS provision?

BAS provisions include:

  • GST law

  • wine equalisation tax law

  • luxury car tax law

  • pay as you go (PAYG) instalments

  • PAYG withholding

  • fuel tax law

  • fringe benefits tax instalments (relating to collection and recovery only).

See section 995-1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1997.

Who needs to register as a BAS agent?

  • Only those entities providing BAS services for a fee need to register.

This means that people providing BAS services for their employer (and are paid a wage for their services) do not need to register.

 What does this mean for people who want to enter the bookkeeping industry: For bookkeepers seeking employment — nothing at all. Employed bookkeepers are not required by law to be qualified or have any experience. However employers will more and more be expecting applicants for bookkeeping jobs to hold a Certificate IV in Bookkeeping — and from a well known and respected training organisation.

For bookkeepers who want to start their own Contract Bookkeeping Service it means that they must hold at least a Certificate IV in Bookkeeping AND have spent up to 1,400 hours working under the supervision and control of a tax agent or BAS agent.

Now before you give up on the idea of a contract bookkeeping career read on . . .

 BIA has the answer:   By enrolling in the Certificate IV Bookkeeping with the Bookkeeping Institute of Australia students are not only able to obtain an academic qualification that meets the requirements of the new law but  with our affiliation with ETax Local Accountants they are also able to provide BAS services legally under the new law.

ETax Local Accountants offer taxation services for many bookkeepers.  The main service offering of ETax Local Acccountants for Bookkeepers relates to Activity Statements and is two fold: 

  1. They perform Quality Assurance Reviews of Activity Statements for both BAS Agents and non-BAS Agents; and

  2. Act as the BAS Agent for clients of the bookkeepers who are not BAS Agents themselves, and attend to the electronic lodgement of their client’s Activity Statements with the ATO.

BAS Lodgement

With ETax Local Accountants, it is not necessary for the bookkeeper to relinquish control of their client to a competing bookkeeping firm. Instead, Etax Local can review and lodge the BAS for the client.

This enables the non-BAS Agent bookkeeper to retain the control of the client relationship and pay a per-BAS lodgement fee to Etax Local Accountants, which can either be on-charged or marked-up to the client.

More Details

 Tax Practitioners Board: 

The following information sheets, application forms and  exposure drafts, which have been published on the TPB's web site, should be studied for further information:

Exposure Drafts: