ATO hunts 32 years of property sale records

The tax agency hopes to catch out illegal activity now that the government amnesty for foreign buyers has lapsed

The Australian Tax Office is boosting its data matching program by requesting 32 years’ worth of state property records in a bid to catch tax cheats and crack down on foreign buyers.

As new watchdog for foreign investment, the ATO has demanded data relating to property sales, sub-divisions, land transfers and valuation details, dating as far back as September 1985, until June 2017.

The ATO has already accessed applications made by foreign investors to the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) dating between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2016.

Following data retrieval, the government will cross-check the records of 11.3 million people in a bid to hunt down illegal owners of Australian real estate and ensure foreign buyers are complying with local laws. This will include around 1 million rental bond and 30 million land title office records each year.

All relevant records held by the Residential Tenancies Board, State Revenue Office and Land Titles Office in each state and territory in Australia will be reviewed, giving the ATO access to personal details about rental property landlords, and anyone who has bought or sold a property since 1985.

The ATO will also gain access to information about every property sold since 1985, including the address, land area, total transfer price, valuation, sale contract date and settlement date.

Details of the agency’s request were first featured in the Australian Government Gazette, where the Commissioner of Taxation lodged a notice of a data matching program.

Since being charged with overseeing foreign investment into residential property, the ATO has employed an additional 50 compliance officers.

The investigation comes just a week after the lapsing of the government's amnesty towards foreign investors who had unlawfully purchased property, allowing them until December 1 to voluntarily come forward and disclose ownership. They would then be protected from criminal prosecution if they sold the property in the following 12 months.