A tax file number (TFN) is a unique number the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) creates and gives to you. Generally, for you to use for taxation and superannuation purposes throughout your life. So, it’s a very important number.
When your TFN is linked with information that identifies you (such as your name and date of birth), this is called your TFN information.
The Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015 (TFN Rule) states how your TFN information should be collected, stored, used, disclosed and kept safe. The ATO and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority also have rules and advice for handling TFN information.
Even though there are strict rules about the use and disclosure of your TFN information, it’s a good idea to keep your TFN information in a safe place and destroy or shred any TFN information you no longer need to prevent others stealing your identity — be aware that Australian taxation law requires you to keep the information for a certain period.
Who can ask for your TFN
Only certain individuals, organisations or agencies can ask you for your TFN, for example:
- the ATO
- your employer
- banks and other financial institutions
- the Department of Human Services (which runs the Centrelink, Child Support and Medicare programs and is allowed to ask for your TFN if you receive personal assistance payments such as a pension, a benefit or an allowance)
- superannuation funds and retirement savings account providers.
If you’re not sure the individual, organisation or agency asking for your TFN is allowed to ask for it, check with the ATO.
Any individual, organisation or agency that is allowed to ask for your TFN information must follow the TFN Rule. They mustn’t record, collect, use or pass on your TFN unless this is allowed under taxation, personal assistance or superannuation law.
When you’re asked for your TFN
When an authorised individual, organisation or agency asks you for your TFN, they must tell you:
- why they are collecting it, including the name of the law or laws that allow them to collect your TFN and the reason they’re collecting it
- that it’s not an offence if you don’t give them your TFN
- what will happen if you don’t give them your TFN.
Any form that asks your TFN must include this information. The reason an individual, organisation or agency needs to collect your TFN can be reasonably general as long as it tells you what the law allows them to do with your TFN.
Do you have to give your TFN?
There is no law that says you must give your TFN to an individual, organisation or agency that is allowed to ask for it. However, there may be financial consequences if you don’t give them your TFN. For example, if you don’t give your employer, bank or superannuation fund your TFN, you may have to pay the highest marginal tax rate on your income or interest payments. Not giving your TFN may also affect whether you receive a personal assistance payment (such as a pension, benefit or allowance).
If a document you’ve been asked to supply includes your TFN, you’re allowed to cross out or remove your TFN before you hand over the document. You can do this even if the individual, organisation or agency asking for the document is allowed to collect your TFN.
When your TFN can be used or disclosed
An individual, organisation or agency that is allowed to ask for your TFN can only use or disclose your TFN information:
- because a taxation, personal assistance or superannuation law requires it
- to give it to you.
For example, the ATO may use your TFN to identify you when you:
- lodge a tax return
- apply for a personal assistance payment, such as a pension, benefit or allowance
- start a new job
- have a savings account or investment that earns income
- receive a payment under the Higher Education Loan Program
- join a superannuation fund.
When your TFN can’t be used or disclosed
An individual, organisation or agency can’t use a TFN to confirm your identity, for example:
- when you want to rent a flat or buy a car
- when you want to open an account with a financial institution
- as part of a national identification system
- to match personal information about you, unless a taxation, personal assistance or superannuation law requires it.
If someone wants to use your TFN to check your identity and you’re not sure if they’re allowed to ask for your TFN, check with the ATO.
If you think your TFN information has been mishandled
If you think that your TFN information has been mishandled, contact the individual, organisation or agency you think is at fault to make a complaint. They should generally respond to your complaint in 30 days.
If they don’t respond to your complaint, or you’re not happy with their response, you may lodge a complaint with us.
We may not investigate a complaint immediately if the individual, organisation or agency has advised us that they are taking action.
Report a lost or stolen TFN or unauthorised access of your TFN information to the ATO