Author: Karen Lau

Two additional Economic Support Payments of $250 each will soon be available to people who get any one of the following:

  • Age Pension;
  • Carer Allowance;
  • Carer Payment;
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card;
  • Disability Support Pension;
  • Double Orphan Pension;
  • Family Tax Benefit Part; or
  • Pensioner Concession Card.

Tip: The $250 payments are not available to anyone who receives the Coronavirus Supplement.

To be eligible for the additional payments, you must receive an eligible payment (or have an eligible card) on:

  • 27 November 2020 to get a $250 payment in December 2020; and
  • 26 February 2021 to get a $250 payment in March 2021.

These additional cash payments follow the two $750 stimulus payments made in April and July 2020 for social security and veteran income support recipients and concession card holders.

The Federal Government’s Coronavirus Supplement has been extended for a further three months. The Supplement payments were due to end on 31 December 2020, but the latest extension will allow them to run until 31 March 2021, which will be welcome news for many individuals still struggling with unemployment and other economic difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Supplement rate will be further cut from 1 January 2021 to $150 per fortnight.

The supplement was originally introduced in April 2020 at a rate of $550 per fortnight, which effectively doubled the rate of certain social security payments, including JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and Austudy. Individuals eligible for these payments received the full amount of the $550 Coronavirus Supplement on top of their payment each fortnight, lifting the total payment to $1,100 for most people.

The initial supplement was extended until 31 December 2020 at $250 per fortnight, and while the latest extension may be welcome news for unemployed or underemployed Australians, the supplement will now be further reduced to $150 per fortnight from 1 January 2021 (until 31 March 2021).

Previous arrangements that increased the income-free area of the JobSeeker payment to $300 per fortnight will continue from 1 January 2021 to 31 March 2021, meaning that recipients of various payments can earn income of up to $300 per fortnight and still receive the maximum payment rate. The partner income test cut-out will be retained at an increased rate of $3,086.11 per fortnight ($80,238.89 per year), allowing recipients to continue accessing various payments.

Those on various support payments need to also be aware of the return of mutual obligation requirements which apply to recipients in all states and territories except Victoria (at the time of writing). This includes performing tasks and activities in the individual’s Job Plan, attending to tasks in online employment services, and/or attending all appointments with their employment provider either over the phone, online or in person. Failure to fulfil these mutual obligations could lead to suspensions of payments, and penalties.

Former employees, sole traders and self-employed individuals thinking of applying for the JobSeeker payment should also be aware that the assets test now applies, as well as the liquid assets waiting period, which could see those with savings having to wait up to 13 weeks to receive payments.

The Government has formally extended the ability for companies to convene annual general meetings (AGMs) and other prescribed meetings entirely online until March 2021.

This extension allows company boards to:

  • provide notice of AGMs to shareholders using email;
  • achieve a quorum with shareholders attending online; and
  • hold AGMs meetings online, with shareholders able to put questions to board members online and vote online.

Company officers are also permitted to use electronic signatures to meet the relevant legal requirements.

The ATO has advised that it will not apply a penalty for self managed super fund (SMSF) trustees that have difficulty obtaining evidence to support market valuations of assets due to COVID-19.

SMSF trustees are required to provide objective and supportable evidence to their auditor each year to establish that assets of the fund are valued at market value.

During the 2020 and 2021 financial years, the ATO will not apply a penalty if it is satisfied that the difficulty in obtaining valuation evidence is due to COVID-19. Instead, the ATO will send the SMSF trustee a letter advising them to ensure they comply with the ATO’s valuation guidelines and have supporting valuation evidence by the time of their next audit if possible. However, the ATO warns that repeated contraventions of the valuation evidence requirements could lead to future penalties.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has published new guidance on the interaction between JobKeeper payments and satisfying the “work test” for the purpose of voluntary superannuation contributions.

Where an individual is aged 67–74 and is stood down from their employment due to the impacts of COVID-19 but is in receipt of the JobKeeper payment, APRA says a super fund trustee can accept a personal contribution from that individual under the super “work test” rules. APRA’s view is that where an employer is receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy for an individual, registrable superannuation entity (RSE) licensees should consider the individual to be “gainfully employed” for the purposes of the “work test”, even if that individual has been fully stood down and is not actually performing work. In APRA’s view, this is appropriate because the individual is still employed and is obtaining a valuable benefit from their employer.

The Government has announced that it will introduce insolvency reforms to help small businesses restructure in response to COVID-19, including:

  • the introduction of a new debt restructuring process for incorporated businesses with liabilities of less than $1 million, drawing on key features from Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code;
  • moving from a one-size-fits-all “creditor in possession” model to a more flexible “debtor in possession” model;
  • providing a rapid 20-business day period for the development of a restructuring plan by a small business restructuring practitioner, followed by 15 business days for creditors to vote on the plan; and
  • creating a new, simplified liquidation pathway for small businesses to allow faster and lower cost liquidation.

Safeguards will be included to prevent companies from using the new processes to undertake corporate misconduct, including firms seeking to carry out illegal phoenix activity.

The new insolvency processes are proposed to be available from 1 January 2021.

The ATO has reminded businesses impacted by COVID-19 that they have a range of tax options to consider, including claiming a deduction for any losses. And for businesses finding it difficult to estimate income for the purposes of PAYG instalments, the ATO will not apply penalties or interest for excessive variations where businesses make a “best attempt” to estimate their end-of-year tax.

Tip: If you need additional time or support to get your tax return in order or work out what’s next for your business, we can help. Contact us, or phone the ATO on 1800 806 218.

Tax losses

Sole traders and individual partners in a partnership who meet certain conditions can offset current year losses against other assessable income (such as salary or investment income) in the same income year. Otherwise, the loss can be deferred or carried forward and offset in a future year when the business next makes a profit. Businesses set up under a company structure that have made a tax loss in a current year can generally carry forward that loss for as long as they want. Of course, it’s crucial to keep proper records when claiming a deduction for losses.

Closing a small business

The ATO has acknowledged that some businesses may need to close their doors – either temporarily or permanently – due to COVID-19, particularly in Victoria. It calls on such businesses to “do their best to keep up with tax and super obligations”.

If a business is forced to close permanently as a result of COVID-19, or for any other reason, it must still lodge any outstanding activity statements and instalment notices, make GST adjustments on the final activity statement and lodge final tax returns. This will enable the ATO to finalise the tax account and issue any refunds that might be owed.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has commenced a new ongoing data-matching program with the ATO in relation to the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees (SAT) measure. The program seeks to confirm the eligibility of employers receiving the subsidy, as well as stamp out any potential double-dipping of government assistance (for example, claiming both SAT and JobKeeper support at the same time for the same employee).

Under SAT, employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50% of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage paid until 31 March 2021. To be eligible, an apprentice must have been in an Australian apprenticeship with a small business as at 1 March 2020. SAT has since been expanded to include medium sized businesses that had an apprentice in place on 1 July 2020. Employers of any size who re-engage an eligible out-of-trade apprentice are also eligible to claim the SAT wage subsidy. However, there are restrictions on when an employer can claim SAT for an eligible apprentice.

Data relating to around 117,000 apprentices and trainees and more than 70,000 employers will be transferred between DESE and the ATO. The program will be ongoing, with data transfer to occur at regular intervals as required over the life of the SAT measure.

Where the data-matching program detects a discrepancy or an anomaly that requires verification, DESE will contact the business and provide them with an opportunity to verify the accuracy of the information on which the eligibility was based. Businesses will be given at least 28 days to respond and any relevant individual circumstances will be taken into consideration.

An additional category for alternative “decline in turnover” tests is now available for the purposes of the revised JobKeeper payment system (which commenced on 28 September 2020) for entities that temporarily ceased trading for some or all of the relevant comparative period.

Under the revised system, an entity must have had an actual decline in its turnover for the applicable quarter relative to the same quarter in 2019. This generally involves making a one-to-one comparison of the 2020 numbers to those in the corresponding period in 2019, to see if it exceeds the 15%, 30% or 50% decline threshold (depending the type of entity).

Alternative tests can only be used if there is not an “appropriate relevant comparison period” in 2019, and four requirements must be satisfied for an entity to use the alternative tests for the new “temporary cessation of business” category. That is, in the comparison period:

  • the entity’s business had temporarily ceased trading due to an event or circumstance outside the ordinary course of the entity’s business;
  • trading temporarily ceased for a week or more;
  • some or all of the relevant comparison period occurred during the time in which the entity’s business had temporarily ceased trading; and
  • the entity’s business resumed trading before 28 September 2020.

Tip: If your business doesn’t meet the requirements for the temporary cessation category, you may still be eligible to apply alternative tests under other categories. Contact us to find out more.

The ATO advises that the “shortcut” rate for claiming work-from-home running expenses has been extended, in recognition that many employees and business owners are still required to work from home due to COVID-19 This shortcut deduction rate was previously extended to 30 September 2020, but will now be available until at least 31 December 2020.

Eligible employees and business owners, therefore, can choose to claim additional running expenses incurred between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 at the rate of 80 cents per work hour, provided they keep a record (such as a timesheet or work logbook) of the number of hours worked from home during the period.