Can the ATO use a garnishee notice to access money in a joint account?

The ATO can issue a garnishee notice as a way of collecting overdue tax debts. Garnishee notices are often sent to banks, requiring the transfer of funds in a taxpayer’s account directly to the ATO as payment towards their tax debt.

But what happens if the taxpayer has a bank account with someone else – can the ATO access the money in that account too? Watch this video to find out.

Video: Can the ATO use a garnishee notice to access money in a joint account?


Hi, it’s Catriona from Hartigan Law. In this video, I’m talking about garnishee notices and how the Tax Office can use them, and particularly what I’m talking about is whether the Tax Office can use a garnishee notice to take money from a joint bank account.

So you might know that a garnishee notice is one of the ways the Tax Office can collect an unpaid tax debt. Usually it will issue a garnishee notice to someone who owes you money – on this example, a bank. And the garnishee notice effectively says, ‘You hold money for this person, instead of paying that money to the person, pay it to the Tax Office instead in satisfaction of their tax debt’.

In this example, I’m talking about a sole trader who’s got a tax debt. So I spoke to a guy last week who’s a carpenter. He’s been a carpenter for a while, racked up a bit of a tax debt due to various reasons. And he wanted to know if the Tax Office could take money out of the joint account that he has with his wife.

The answer to that question is “no”.

It goes back to a 1980’s case, which basically says, money held in a joint bank account isn’t owned by either of the people who are on that account. So, it’s not like it’s 50/50 for the two account holders.

Instead, the two account holders own all of that money together.

So it follows that the Tax Office can’t issue a garnishee notice for a single taxpayer on a joint account and access that money that way. It’s just not allowed under the law.

So if you were wondering that, I hope I’ve answered your question. If you’ve got a tax debt that you’re struggling with and you want to talk about it, get in touch and we can have chat about how I can help you.

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About Hartigan Law

I am a specialist tax disputes lawyer with over a decade of experience in dealing with the ATO.

I’ve helped many clients to deal with their tax debt, even after the ATO has issued a garnishee notice or started debt recovery in the court. I have helped clients to avoid bankruptcy by reducing their tax debt and successfully negotiating payment plans with the ATO.

I work with clients all over Australia. I can do this because the tax issues I deal with are Federal – the tax law is the same no matter where in Australia you live.

You can contact me on 1300 75 84 84 or at