Results and commentary from the Measuring Australian Business Register Integrity Survey 2015 - known as "Survey 20".
You can download this publication in Portable Document Format (PDF): download Integrity of the Australian Business Register 2015 (1.52MB).
The Australian Business Register (ABR) is Australia’s source of registered business information. A whole-of-government resource and valuable public asset, the data in the Register is regularly accessed and used by both the private and government sectors to facilitate business and government interactions.
The Register provides a unique trusted identifier for Australian enterprises (the Australian business number – ABN) and continues to be developed as the nation’s accurate and complete source of business information.
As part of our commitment to the continuous improvement of the Register, we monitor its integrity by conducting regular surveys of ABN holders.
Survey 19, undertaken in 2014 with a methodology developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), provided a benchmark for measuring the accuracy of the Register for future years.
This year, our 20th survey was undertaken with information being requested from ABN holders under section 15 of the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999 (ABN Act). Consistent with contemporary research practices, our methodology improvements included an online survey (for the first time), with follow-up phone contact for those who were unable or unwilling to respond online. With this approach our completion rate increased to 58% this year, compared to 44% last year.
This report summarises what we learned from contacting 2,520 ABN holders in 2015 and asking them about the accuracy of the information held about them in the Register and their experience in updating their details.
The annual survey of ABN holders was conducted from 2 April 2015 to 17 June 2015.
ABR Survey 20 differed from Survey 19 as follows:
A new category of assessment was introduced this year to measure ‘minor or insignificant errors’ in the information held on the Register. We found that in last year’s survey, respondents reported information as incorrect even though the error was minor or insignificant (such as a spelling error or small data processing error), which in many cases would still allow the Register to be used. Overall, 5% of information held in the Register was identified as not being completely correct and containing minor or insignificant errors.
The 20th ABR Survey confirmed that our 2014–15 program of work to remove redundant ABNs, and update the information on active ABNs has had its desired effect, with a 29% reduction in the number of redundant ABNs on the Register, and across the board increases in the accuracy of key information held on the Register since Survey 19.
Where survey respondents told us they were no longer using the ABN (so our listing of the ABN as ‘active’ was incorrect), we asked for the main reason they were no longer using the ABN:
When asked when they stopped using the ABN, the most common response was 1−2 years ago (26%), with slightly less (23% each) identifying 3−5 years or more than 5 years ago.
In last year’s survey the most common answer was ‘3−5 years ago’. We attribute the shift between Survey 19 and Survey 20 to the work we have been doing to remove redundant ABNs from the Register.
Approximately 97% of ABNs have their name completely correct, representing an average improvement of 20 percentage points from Survey 19. It is possible that the change is attributed to this question not being consistently interpreted between online forms (Survey 20) and telephone interviews (Survey 19). In an online form the entity’s name can be displayed exactly as it appears on the Register, but over the phone requires the operative to spell it out.
Where respondents identified the legal name as incorrect, 61% advised us they had changed their legal name but had failed to comply with their legal obligation to update the Register.
The accuracy of postal address information has improved significantly since last year across all entity types, excepting government, with the largest improvement observed for Partnerships. The average change of 17 percentage points in one year reflects a strong improvement in the quality of this information on the Register. Where respondents told us the postal address we had recorded was incorrect, 65% stated they had changed their postal address without updating the Register.
Accuracy of business address information has improved significantly since last year, with the average improvement of 16 percentage points. Where respondents identified their main business address recorded on the ABR as incorrect, 62% confirmed that they had changed their business address but had failed to update the Register.
*Where an email address is blank and the business wants it blank then this is counted as 'correct'
A comparison to Survey 19 tells us there have been improvements to the ‘correctness’ of email addresses across all entity types, with the exception of Government and Superannuation funds. We would anticipate this trend to continue with the email validation process introduced in January 2015 to the ABN registration process and the work we are undertaking to remove invalid email addresses from the Register.
To overcome issues identified in Survey 19 in understanding the accuracy of email addresses we changed the question in Survey 20 deliberately so that blank email addresses can be separately counted as valid email addresses to allow for a comparison between Survey 19 and 20 (figure 6) and so we could also measure the accuracy of actual email addresses in the Register.
The survey found that 44% of ABN holders have an accurate email address, 10% have an incorrect email address and the remaining 46% have no email address recorded.
* This identifies the percentage of correct emails on the Register. It does not include as correct those that have no email address recorded on the Register.
For the 46% that do not have an email address recorded the survey found:
Where respondents told us their recorded email was not correct, 65% confirmed they had changed their email address without updating the Register.
This year we measured the accuracy of both the ANZSIC (Australian New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification) division and ANZSIC class. The industry division describes the broad sector an enterprise operates in – there are 20 of these. This measure was not captured in Survey 19.
Survey 20 found 83% of ABNs had the correct industry division.
The industry class refers to the accuracy of the full ANZSIC four-digit code and describes the specific type of work being done - there are around 500 of these. Survey 20 found 80% of ABNs had the correct industry class, a statistically significant increase on the 63% found in Survey 19.
Superannuation funds were the most accurate entity type for this information, with a very high result of 98%. There were significant improvements between Survey 19 and Survey 20 with an average improvement of 17 percentage points across all entities.
Where respondents identified industry information as incorrect:
*Note: Government and Individual entities do not have associates
Where respondents identified errors in their listed associates, 63% said they had changed associates but failed to update the Register.
Unlike Survey 19, Survey 20 comprised two sections; mandatory and voluntary questions. As not all respondents answered the voluntary questions, the analysis of results is done so with caution as the sample sizes are small and the margin of error is high.
Despite the improvement to ABR integrity since the last survey, the survey results suggest there remains an on-going need to better-educate people about their obligations to update details on the ABR, with only 24% of respondents reporting they have ever updated the Register.
The main reasons why ABN holders reported they had not updated the Register when their details changed were:
Didn't know you needed to
Provided the details to the ATO for another reason and thought they would flow through to update the ABR
Didn't think about it
Tried to update but had difficulties
Didn't know how to
Provided the details to another government agency for another reason and thought they would flow through to update the ABR
No time/too busy
Those that have updated the ABR reported they did so via:
Website (using an AUSkey)
Tax agent portal
Of those respondents who had updated the Register, 41% found the process easy compared to 27% who found it difficult. Where respondents said they found the process difficult, the most common responses were that the website was not user friendly (19%) and the process was hard to navigate (17%).
We will continue to undertake activities to improve the integrity of the Register: