Free tax assistance for vulnerable communities wins national award

A Curtin University initiative which offers free tax help to vulnerable and disadvantaged communities while providing students with real world experience, has won a coveted Universities Australia (UA) Shaping Australia Award.

The Curtin Tax Clinic sees Curtin students work under the supervision of experienced tax professionals to help disadvantaged people manage their tax affairs at no cost.

At a gala ceremony in Canberra, the team was acknowledged with the People’s Choice Award in the Community Champion Award category, which recognises people and programs which demonstrate a tangible benefit to communities and improve people’s lives – particularly those in need.

Last year saw the Clinic complete more than 3000 tax returns for more than 1000 taxpayers, which included people facing financial hardship, abuse, incarceration, homelessness, or lacking access to reliable tax advice.

Running since 2018, it was the first clinic of its kind and was the driving force behind the creation of the National Tax Clinic program, which now sees 15 Australian Government-supported clinics operating across the country.

The initiative also educates communities through its various programs, which includes several resources introducing concepts such as tax and savings to primary and high school children, to help them gain an early understanding of financial literacy.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said the award was richly deserved.

“This program shows that Universities can have a profound impact on people’s lives: we don’t just close gaps, we build bridges, offering essential services to those often overlooked, embodying the true essence of collaborative community support,” she said.

“The Curtin Tax Clinic team, provides invaluable assistance to prisoners, the homeless and vulnerable and to Indigenous Australians who have trouble grappling with their taxation affairs due to their isolation and limited resources.

“Often prisoners, for example, have worked for part of a year, or received income from elsewhere, so a tax return must be filed, or they can be penalised. Through this assistance prisoners often receive a tax return and having this money can make a huge difference to their transition on leaving prison.

“Winning this UA Shaping Australia Award is wonderful recognition – congratulations to all involved.”

Project lead Annette Morgan from the Faculty of Business and Law said the award was recognition of the dedicated hard work put in by all involved with the Curtin Tax Clinic from its inception to where it stands today.

“It shows the public truly values the services we are providing and that the Government can see their investment in the National Tax Clinic program has been worthwhile,” she said.

“The Curtin Tax Clinic will continue making a difference to those in the community who need access to our services and, hopefully, be able to expand further to keep up with the demand and continue special projects such as remote outreach, prison work and helping people experiencing homeless.

“Educationally, it offers invaluable experiential learning for our students and not just in the technical side of tax, but in the soft skills of people management and in dealing with real life problems they often develop more empathy.

“Nationally, there will be approximately 20 clinics in 2025 which will allow for more taxpayers to gain access to services allowing them to understand and comply with Australia’s complex tax system.”

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