34. Tax file number (TFN) requirements

34.1 - Who is required to provide a TFN?

All students who wish to obtain a HELP loan are required to provide their TFN, or a Certificate of application for a TFN on their CAF (see part 10.1) on or before the census date. Students who do not have a TFN must apply for one by completing a Tax file number – application or enquiry for an individual form, which is available from the ATO [HESA paragraph 90-1(f)(i), and subsections 104-1(h), 118-1(g) and section 187-1].

Commonwealth supported students who are eligible for HECS-HELP, but who wish to pay their student contribution up-front, should also provide their TFN. This acts as a precaution if they fail to make a payment on or before the census date for the unit. Failure to make a full up-front payment on or before the census date, and failure to provide a TFN, triggers the provider’s obligation to cancel the student’s enrolment as a Commonwealth supported student in the relevant unit.

A student must apply for a TFN early enough to ensure they will receive their TFN by the census date (or earlier administrative date). The TFN and student details supplied on the form are cross referenced with the information held by the ATO. If there is a mismatch between the information on the student’s application and ATO records, the student will not be able to access a loan. The student will need to correct the mismatch before a loan can be granted. If the student does not correct the error, the student’s form will not be valid and they will be ineligible for assistance.

For information on correcting a TFN mismatch see the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s Student Fact Sheet: Tax File Number (TFN) Mismatch.

If a student does not have a TFN, the fastest way to obtain one is to apply through Australia Post. A TFN will normally be provided to the student by the ATO within 28 days.

The ATO will also, on request, supply the student with a Certificate of Application for a TFN. Even before the student receives their TFN from the ATO, they can attach their certificate to their HELP form, as proof that they have applied for a TFN. If the student’s form does not have their TFN (or the student has not supplied a valid Certificate of Application for a TFN) by the census date, the student’s form will not be valid and they will be ineligible for assistance. Once the student has received their TFN from the ATO, they must supply it to their provider within 21 days.

If a student cannot find their TFN, they must contact the ATO for assistance. More information about applying for a TFN is on the ATO website.

34.2 - When must students provide their TFN?

Students are required to provide their TFN, or a Certificate of application for a TFN, on or before the census date for the unit of study for which they wish to obtain a HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP loan [HESA subsection 187-1(2)].

Students wishing to obtain SA-HELP for all or part of a student services and amenities fee imposed on them by their provider, must meet the TFN requirements, on or before the date the debt is incurred, in order to be eligible.

Students wishing to obtain an OS-HELP loan must provide their TFN when applying for OS‑HELP. Providers must not make any payments before the student provides a TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN.

34.3 - How must students provide their TFN?

Students should provide their TFN on one or more of the following forms (see part 10.1), including:

  • Request for a Commonwealth supported place and a HECS-HELP loan form
  • Request for a FEE-HELP loan form
  • Request for a FEE-HELP loan Open Universities Australia (OUA) form
  • OS-HELP debt confirmation form
  • Request for a SA-HELP loan form.

If a student does not provide their TFN on the relevant form or a Certificate of application for a TFN on or before the census date for that unit, they are not eligible for HELP. Students requesting OS-HELP must provide their TFN on or before the OS-HELP payment date. Students requesting SA-HELP must provide their TFN on or before the date the debt is incurred. Students may also provide their TFN electronically in accordance with chapter 8 of the Administration Guidelines (see part 41.1).

34.4 - Notification if a student does not provide a TFN

If a student does not provide a TFN on their CAF (see part 10.1) and the student intends to access HELP, the provider must notify the student, in writing, that the student’s TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN is required on or before the census date [HESA subsections 193-1(1),(2) (4A) and (4B)], or before the provider can pay the student any amounts of OS-HELP [HESA subsections 193‑1(3) and (4)].

The provider must notify the student of the TFN requirements within seven days of receiving the form or before the census date for HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP, if earlier. For students who have applied for SA-HELP, the provider must notify students of the TFN requirements on the date payable for SA‑HELP, if that is earlier.

The provider is not obliged to provide this notice if the student is not eligible for HELP [HESA paragraph 193‑1(5)(a)].

34.5 - Students who do not have, or cannot remember, their TFN

Students who do not have, or cannot remember, their TFN, or who have applied to the ATO but have not yet received a TFN, should contact the ATO to acquire their TFN or to obtain a Certificate of application for a TFN.

Providers may be given alternative documentation to the Certificate of application for a TFN issued by the ATO as proof that students have applied for a TFN.

Students who apply for a TFN online will be able to take their printed TFN application summary to an interview at a participating Australia Post retail outlet and confirm their identity. There is no charge for this service. Australia Post will issue a barcode matched receipt and this receipt plus the application summary can be given to providers as acceptable proof that the student has applied for a TFN.

Participating Australia Post outlets can be found using the Australia Post outlet locator.

As the ATO can provide TFNs as late as 28 days after application, it is essential for students to apply early to ensure they have their TFN on or before the census date. If a student applies for a TFN less than one month before the relevant census date, the student should request the ATO to issue them with a Certificate of application for a TFN.

If a student has not received their TFN within ten days before the census date, the student should provide this certificate to their provider as proof of having applied. The student must quote their TFN within 21 days from the day the ATO issues the student a TFN advice [HESA paragraphs 187-5(1)(a) and (2)(a)]. The provider must be satisfied that the TFN quoted by the student is valid [HESA paragraphs 187‑5(1)(b) and (2)(b)].

34.6 - Provision of TFNs to providers

The ATO ceased providing student TFNs to higher education providers from 9 January 2017. This applies to all HELP loans and VET Student Loans, and to all providers. Background on this decision is provided below.

HESA provides that the Commissioner of Taxation may give a higher education provider written notice of a student’s TFN [HESA Division 179 and Schedule 1A, Division 14]. This applies if the TFN is issued or reissued, or if the Commissioner is satisfied that the TFN has been cancelled, withdrawn or is otherwise wrong.

During 2016 the Australian National Audit Office examined the administration of HELP debt generally, and administration of the VET FEE-HELP scheme in particular. At the same time, the department reviewed risks associated with student loan schemes and HELP data management.

In September 2016, the department instructed the ATO to cease providing TFNs to VET providers, including dual VET and higher education providers. To ensure consistency of treatment across the whole tertiary education sector, and to strengthen protections for students, the department decided to extend this policy to all providers.

Accordingly, from 9 January 2017, providers can no longer contact the ATO to obtain a TFN where a student has failed to advise it.

Revised procedure for confirming student TFNs

Providers should contact the student to obtain the correct TFN, or advise the student to contact the ATO if they need to confirm their TFN. Students should provide updated details to their provider if the Commissioner has issued, altered, or replaced their TFN.

34.7 - Students who fail to provide a TFN

Commonwealth supported students seeking HECS-HELP

A provider must cancel a student’s enrolment in a unit of study as a Commonwealth supported student if the student is seeking HECS-HELP and has not, on or before the census date, provided a TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN. If a student’s enrolment as a Commonwealth supported student is cancelled, the provider must reduce the student’s debt for that unit to zero and repay that amount to the Commonwealth [HESA subsection 193-5].

Students seeking FEE-HELP

If a student who is seeking FEE-HELP does not provide a TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN on or before the census date, the Commonwealth will not be liable to provide a loan for the tuition fees. The provider must reduce the student’s debt for that unit to zero and repay that amount to the Commonwealth. A provider may make alternative arrangements for the student to pay their tuition fees [HESA subsection 193-10].

Students seeking OS-HELP

Students seeking OS-HELP assistance must not be paid their OS-HELP until they have provided their TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN [HESA subsection 124-1(1)].

Students seeking SA-HELP

If a student is seeking SA-HELP and does not provide a TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN on or before the date the debt is incurred, the Commonwealth will not be liable to provide a loan for the student services and amenities fee [HESA subsection 193-15].

34.8 - Validation of TFNs

Students are eligible for a HELP loan only if they provide a valid TFN.

Providers should obtain a TFN from students seeking to access a HELP loan and report this data along with key identifying data as soon as possible after the student is admitted into a new course of study. Departmental systems will attempt to verify newly reported TFNs daily and will provide feedback to providers on whether reported TFNs have been verified by ATO systems. No loans will be transmitted to the ATO until a verified TFN is reported by the provider. Further information on the TFN verification process is available on the TCSI website.

The Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015 specifies the circumstances in which the provider must be satisfied that a number is a valid TFN.

What happens if a student has not provided a valid tax file number?

If a student has not provided a valid TFN, the provider must notify the student, in writing, within seven days of receiving the relevant CAF (see part 10.1), or before the census date or OS-HELP payment incurral date, if earlier. The provider must notify the student that they:

  • have not provided a valid TFN; and
  • are required to provide either a TFN or Certificate of application for a TFN on or before the census date for the unit or, in the case of OS-HELP, on or before the OS‑HELP payment incurral date [HESA section 193-1].

A provider can notify the student using electronic means if it complies with the ETA and chapter 8 of the Administration Guidelines (see part 41.1).

If the student fails to provide either a valid TFN or a Certificate of application for a TFN before the census date, they will not be eligible for a HELP loan and providers must cancel their enrolment or seek payment from the student.

Students seeking SA-HELP

If a student has not provided a valid TFN, the provider must notify the student in writing, on or before the day the student services and amenities fee is payable, on the date the debt is incurred, or within seven days of receiving the Request for a SA-HELP loan form. The provider must inform the student that they:

  • have not provided a valid TFN; and
  • are required to provide either a TFN or Certificate of application for a TFN on or before the day the fee is payable.

34.9 - TFNs and the electronic submission of forms

Students who fill out an electronic form, and who are required to provide a TFN, must have a valid TFN. A provider cannot use the 00999999999 code as a valid TFN for electronic forms.

A provider may incorporate an electronic prompt that informs their students that if they have stated they have a Certificate of application for a TFN – that they are required to provide a copy of this to the provider.

34.10 - ATO TFN notices

The ATO may give the provider notice of students who do not have a TFN for one or more of the following reasons twice-yearly, by late February and July [HESA Division 190]:

  • the ATO is unable to identify the student correctly
  • the ATO is not satisfied that the student has a TFN
  • the TFN given by a student is not the student’s TFN
  • the ATO has refused to issue a TFN to the student because the student already has a TFN
  • the ATO has cancelled the student’s TFN.

Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015: What happens if the ATO notifies a provider that a student does not have a TFN?

Commonwealth supported students seeking HECS-HELP

If the ATO notifies a provider that a student does not have, or no longer has, a TFN, the provider must cancel the student’s enrolment as a Commonwealth supported student in the unit of study for which the student was seeking HECS-HELP if, at the end of 28 days after receipt of the notice from the ATO, the provider has not been notified of a number they are satisfied is a valid TFN. The provider must not allow a student to enrol as a Commonwealth supported student in that unit with the same census date again [HESA subsections 193-5(1) and (2)]. The provider must reduce the student’s debt for that unit to zero and repay that amount to the Commonwealth (see part 42).

Students seeking FEE-HELP

If the ATO notifies a provider that a student does not have a TFN and, at the end of 28 days after the provider receives this notice, the provider has not been notified of a number they are satisfied is a valid TFN, the Commonwealth will not be liable to provide a loan for the tuition fees [HESA subsections 193-10(1) and (2)]. The provider must reduce the student’s debt for that unit of study to zero and repay that amount to the Commonwealth (see part 42).

A provider may make alternative arrangements for the student to pay their tuition fees. The provider may also cancel the student’s enrolment in the unit for which the student was seeking FEE‑HELP.

Students seeking OS-HELP

If the ATO notifies a provider that a student does not have a TFN and, at the end of 28 days after the provider receives this notice, the provider has not been notified of a number they are satisfied is a valid TFN, the Commonwealth will still be liable to provide an OS‑HELP loan to the student if it has already been paid by the provider. However, if the provider has not yet paid the OS-HELP loan to the student, it should not do so until the student has provided a valid TFN [HESA subsections 193‑5(1) and (2)].

Students seeking SA-HELP

If the ATO notifies a provider that a student does not have a TFN and, at the end of 28 days after the provider receives this notice, the provider has not been notified of a number they are satisfied is a valid TFN, the Commonwealth will not be liable to provide a loan for the fee. The provider must repay any amount paid to them by the Commonwealth to discharge the student’s liability for the student services and amenities fee [HESA section 193-15]. A provider may make alternative arrangements for the student to pay their student services and amenities fee.

34.11 - TFN retention and disposal

Providers must retain a student’s TFN until such time as:

  • the provider is satisfied that it has correctly calculated the debt for the final unit of study in the course for which the student has sought HELP
  • the student’s account with the provider is finalised; and
  • the ATO has been notified of the final debt.

In keeping with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015, any disposal of TFN information must be by appropriately secure means.

34.12 - TFN confidentiality

The law prohibits:

  • the disclosure of student TFNs
  • provider’s use of TFNs for any purpose other than processing a HELP debt
  • use of TFNs as a means of identifying students
  • any unauthorised request for a student to provide a TFN; and
  • any unauthorised recording of a TFN.

A provider must take reasonable precautions to prevent unauthorised access to HELP and related information, including student TFNs. The provider must comply with the rules for handling TFNs in the Privacy (Tax File Number) Rule 2015, in addition to the relevant provisions in HESA, the Privacy Act and the Taxation Administration Act.

34.13 - Provision of TFN if a student enrols in a new course of study

If a student cancels their enrolment in a course and enrols in a different course, the provider is not permitted to transfer a student’s TFN to the records or documents for the new course. A student must separately meet the TFN requirements for each course they enrol in [HESA subsection 187-1(1AA)]