Accounting

Tax time 2020 is here, but it’s likely to be anything but routine. Many individuals on reduced income or have increased deductions may be eager to lodge their income tax returns early to get their hands on a refund. However, the ATO has issued a warning against lodging too early, before all your income information becomes available. It’s important to remember that employers have until the end of July to electronically finalise your income statement, and the same timeframe applies for other information from banks, health funds and government agencies.

For most people, income statements have replaced payment summaries. So, instead of receiving a payment summary from each employer, your income statements will be finalised electronically and the information provided directly to the ATO. Your income statements can be accessed through myGov and the information is automatically included in your tax return if you use myTax.

Tip: Tax agents can also access this information, and we’re here to help you get your return right this year.

Although you may be eager to lodge as soon as possible, the ATO has warned against lodging too early, as much of the information on your income may not be confirmed until later. It’s generally important to wait until income statements are finalised before lodging a tax return to avoid either delays in processing or a tax bill later on. Your income statement will be marked “tax ready” on myGov when it’s finalised, and other information from banks, health funds and government agencies will be automatically inserted into your tax return when it’s ready towards the end of July.

If you still choose to lodge early, the ATO advises carefully reviewing any information that’s pre-filled so you can confirm it’s correct. When lodging early you’ll
also have to formally acknowledge that your employer(s) may later finalise income statements with different amounts, meaning you may need to amend your tax return and additional tax may apply.

Tax return tips

With the great disruptors of the Australian bushfires and the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the associated government economic stimulus measures, there are some key tax-related matters for everyone to be aware of this year.

The ATO has a range of approaches to support taxpayers through tax time 2020, especially where new circumstances mean you might be receiving a different type of income or be able to claim new deductions. The ATO’s Tax Time Essentials page (www.ato.gov.au/taxessentials) provides a one-stop-shop for the things that are a little different this year and how they impact tax returns.

People accessing super early as a part of the COVID-19 early release scheme can rest assured that this money will not form a part of their assessable income. To date, 1.98 million people have withdrawn an average of $7,475 from their super under the scheme.

Another key difference this year is the introduction of the optional simplified method for claiming work from home expense deductions. This method allows you to claim 80 cents for each hour you worked from home from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, to cover all deductible expenses. However, if you were working from home before 1 March 2020 or have documented actual expenses that work out to be more than 80 cents per hour you can still use the usual method to claim expenses related to working from home.

If you were unable to work from home and had to take leave or were temporarily stood down, if your employer made any kind of payment, either regular or one-off, those amounts will need to be declared as wages and salary on your return and tax will apply at your usual marginal rates. This applies regardless of whether the payments are funded by the government JobKeeper scheme.

If you’ve been made redundant or had your employment terminated, any payment you receive may consist of a tax-free portion and a concessionally taxed portion, which means that you could potentially pay less tax.

Businesses (including sole traders and charities) must have suffered a “substantial decline” in turnover to qualify for the JobKeeper Payment of $1,500 per eligible employee. The basic decline in turnover test requires an entity to measure its projected GST turnover for a turnover test period in 2020 and compare this to the current GST turnover for a relevant comparison period in 2019. In particular, the entity needs to allocate supplies made, or likely to be made, to a turnover test period or relevant comparison period based on when the supply is made or is likely to be made, and to then determine the value of those supplies. Any shortfall is to be expressed as a percentage. If this equals or exceeds specified thresholds, the entity satisfies the decline in turnover test.

The ATO has recently issued Law Companion Ruling LCR 2020/1, a non-binding ruling that explains various aspects of the test and sets out practical compliance approaches for calculating turnover.

The ATO has extended the Single Touch Payroll (STP) exemption for small employers in relation to closely held payees from 1 July 2020 to 1 July 2021 in response to COVID-19.

tip: A “small employer” is one that has 19 or fewer employees, and a “closely held payee” is someone who is directly related to the business, company or trust that pays them, such as family members of a family business, directors or shareholders of a company or beneficiaries of a trust.

This STP exemption for closely held payees applies automatically and small employers do not need to apply to the ATO to access it. However, employers should keep records to support their decision to apply the concession.

Tax-related business measures

  • Cash flow boost payments: Tax-free payments of up to $100,000 are available for eligible small and medium sized entities and not-for-profits (including charities) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000.
  • Instant asset write-off: From 12 March to 30 June 2020, the threshold increases to $150,000 for business entities with aggregated annual turnover of less than $50 million.
  • Accelerated depreciation: Businesses with aggregated turnover of less than $500 million can deduct capital allowances for depreciating assets at an accelerated rate. This measure extends over the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 income years.
  • Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive: The Government has deferred the lodgment dates for R&D Tax Incentive applications for 2018–2019 until 30 September 2020.

Superannuation

  • Superannuation early release: Eligible people affected by COVID-19 can apply to release (tax-free) up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019–2020 and up to $10,000 in 2020–2021.
  • Temporary residents: Certain temporary residents impacted by COVID-19 may apply for early release of up to $10,000 of their super by 30 June 2020.
  • Super pension drawdowns reduced: The minimum annual payment amounts for certain pensions and annuities have been temporarily reduced by 50% for 2019–2020 and 2020–2021.

Social security and support

  • Fortnightly Coronavirus Supplement: This $550 supplement is available for six months for job seekers, sole traders, students and some others. It effectively doubles the current payment for new and existing social security recipients from 27 April 2020. It will be paid for six months to both existing and new recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Sickness Allowance, Youth Allowance for jobseekers, Parenting Payment Partnered, Parenting Payment Single, Partner Allowance, Sickness Allowance and Farm Household Allowance.
  • Stimulus payments for income support recipients: The first $750 cash stimulus payment has now gone out to 6.8 million eligible pensioners, carers, disability support pensioners, those on family tax benefits and concession card holders. A second $750 payment will be made from 13 July 2020 for eligible income recipients and concession card holders.
  • Regional and sector support: The Government has set aside an initial $1 billion to support regions, communities and industries that have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic, including those heavily reliant on industries such as tourism, agriculture and education.

ATO concessions

  • Deferring tax payments: Tax payment dates will be deferred by up to six months for tax amounts due through the BAS. This includes PAYG instalments, income tax assessments, FBT assessments and excise.
  • Varying PAYG instalments: The ATO has allowed businesses to vary their PAYG instalment amounts to zero for the March 2020 quarter. Businesses that vary their PAYG instalment to zero can also claim a refund for any instalments made during the 2019–2020 financial year.
  • ATO automatic lodgment deferrals: Company 2018–2019 income tax returns are now due by 5 June 2020 and SMSF 2018–2019 annual returns by 30 June 2020. For individuals, partnerships and trusts, 2018–2019 income tax returns can be lodged by the 5 June 2020 concessional due date. Finally, the due date for 2019–2020 FBT annual returns has been deferred to 25 June 2020.
  • Working from home deductions: The ATO will accept tax deduction claims using a flat rate of 80c per hour, provided a diary of working hours is kept.
  • FBT: If entities provide or pay for goods or services to assist employees who are sick or are at risk of becoming sick with COVID-19, this will generally be exempt from FBT if the benefit is provided for their immediate relief.
  • Switching to monthly GST reporting: Businesses on a quarterly reporting cycle can elect to switch their GST reporting and payment to a monthly cycle to get a quicker GST refund.

Financial institutions

  • Bank loan deferrals: Banks will defer loan repayments for six months for small businesses with total business loan facilities up to $10 million who need assistance because of COVID-19.
  • Bank assistance for JobKeeper: The major banks have agreed to set up a dedicated hotline for customers needing to access bridging finance to pay their staff ahead of receiving money under the JobKeeper program. The banks have also agreed to expedite the processing of those JobKeeper applications.

Tip: The ATO has a range of regularly updated webpages that provide answers to common COVID-19 support questions, including on:

  • JobKeeper for employers, and for employees;
  • income tax impacts for people who work and earn money overseas but have returned to Australia because of COVID-19; and
  • tax considerations and other financial impacts for residential rental property owners, including rent and loan payment changes, and personal use of short-term accommodation like holiday houses.

As of the second round of economic stimulus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has legislated a measure to boost cash flow for employers. However, small to medium employers who intend to claim the “cash flow boost payment” in the hope of receiving an injection of cash should beware. The “payment” is not actually a payment, but a credit that will be offset against the liabilities that appear on the business activity statement (BAS) and any debits in your running balance account (RBA). While this is still likely to support employment by reducing the amount some businesses have to pay to the ATO, anyone hoping to get a cash injection will be sorely disappointed.

Eligible employers will receive an offset equal to three times the amount of tax withheld from ordinary salary and wages as disclosed in the March monthly BAS, or equal to the amount of tax withheld from ordinary salary and wages for the quarter. Both are subject to a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $50,000. The payment is due on 28 April 2020 and other payments will follow later this year.

These cash flow boost payments are only available to entities that qualified as small or medium entities (ie with turnover less than $50 million) for the income year most recently assessed. There is also a withholding requirement – the payment will only be made to entities that first notify the ATO that they have a withholding obligation through the lodgment of a BAS or an instalment activity statement (IAS) for the period.

The JobKeeper Payment scheme is now open to eligible employers, sole traders and other entities to enable them to pay their eligible employees’ salary or wages of at least $1,500 each (before tax) per fortnight. You can enrol for the JobKeeper Payment through the ATO’s Business Portal, in ATO online services using myGov if you are a sole trader, or through a registered tax or BAS agent.

There are special rules that enable sole traders (entities that do not have employees as such) to obtain the JobKeeper Payment.

The JobKeeper Payment scheme commenced on 30 March and will finish on 27 September 2020, operating on a fortnightly basis. Employers and eligible recipients must qualify on a (rolling) fortnightly basis.

Decline in turnover

Businesses (including sole traders and charities) must have suffered a “substantial decline” in turnover due to the COVID-19 pandemic to be entitled to the payment of $1,500 for each eligible employee.

The decline in turnover test requires you to measure the business’s projected GST turnover and compare it to a “relevant comparison period”. To be eligible, the turnover must have declined by:

  • for ACNC-registered charities: 15%;
  • for entities with turnover less than $1 billion: 30%;
  • for entities with turnover greater than $1 billion: 50%.

Wage condition

Critically, it is a condition of entitlement that the business has paid salary and wages of at least the amount of $1,500 (before tax) to each relevant employee in the fortnight.

TIP: Employers and other eligible recipients that enrol by 31 May can claim for the fortnights in April and May if you meet all the requirements for each fortnight. This includes having paid employees by the appropriate dates. For the first two fortnights the ATO will accept that the minimum payment has been paid even if it occurred late, provided it was paid by the end of April.

Employee conditions

An individual must be employed during a JobKeeper fortnight to be eligible for that fortnight (but does not need to be employed for the full fortnight). In addition, they must, as at 1 March 2020, be aged 16 or over, be an employee or a long-term casual employee (12 months of regular and systematic employment) and be an Australia resident for tax purposes.

The 1 March date is important, as it allows employees who were retrenched after that date but then subsequently rehired to be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment. However, if an employee was only engaged after 1 March, they are not eligible.

Eligible employees must have provided a notice to their employer agreeing:

  • to be nominated by the employer as an eligible employee of that employer under the JobKeeper scheme;
  • that they have not agreed to be nominated by another employer; and
  • that (if employed as a casual employee) they do not have permanent employment with another employer.

An eligible employee who is employed by one or more qualifying employers will need to choose one employer that will receive the JobKeeper Payments.

Once an employee has nominated an employer, the employer has received JobKeeper Payments and has paid the employee, the employee cannot nominate a different employer. This includes where the employment relationship ends (although the ex-employee may then be eligible for the separate JobSeeker Payment).

Payment

The government will pay the JobKeeper Payment within 14 days of the end of the calendar month in which the fortnight ends. This means that the first JobKeeper Payment will not be made until (at least) the first week of May.

The ATO has released its application form for the early release of superannuation by individuals impacted by COVID-19. From 20 April, an individual can make one application to access up to $10,000 of their super (tax-free) in the 2019–2020 financial year, and a second application for up to $10,000 in the 2020–2021 year until 24 September 2020.

TIP: The ATO has run a social media campaign asking people to observe the intention of the legislation and only apply to release their super to deal with the adverse economic effects of COVID-19. You should not withdraw your super early and recontribute it to gain a personal tax deduction.

If you are eligible, you should carefully check your super account balances to ensure there are sufficient funds available to claim. If you make an application and the fund has insufficient money to fulfil the application, you will not be able to make a second application for the balance from another fund/account in that financial year or ask for an amount above the $10,000 cap in the 2020–2021 financial year.

It take one to two business days for super funds to receive notifications directly from the ATO about their members. The government then expects funds to process the payments and release the amounts to individuals “as soon as possible”.

If your application is rejected by the ATO, you will be notified via your MyGov account in two to three days.

Separate arrangements apply for applications by members of self managed super funds (SMSFs). The ATO will issue a determination to you as the fund member (instead of to the super fund) advising of your eligibility to release an amount. When the SMSF receives the determination from you, the SMSF trustee is then authorised to make the payment.

If you or your business need help with your financial arrangements during this difficult time, we can help you.

ATO coronavirus administrative support

A series of administrative measures to assist businesses experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been announced by the ATO. These include deferring the payment date and amounts due on Business Activity Statements (BASs), income tax assessments, FBT assessments and excise by up to four months. Businesses will also be allowed to change payment and reporting cycles for GST and vary PAYG instalment amounts. Any interest or penalties applied to tax liabilities incurred after 23 January 2020 may be remitted.

The measures that will apply are similar to those for taxpayers affected by the recent Australian bushfires. However, one important point of difference is that while the bushfire measures applied automatically to particular geographical areas, assistance for those impacted by COVID-19 will not be automatically implemented. Taxpayers who have been affected will need to contact the ATO to discuss their situation in order to come up with a tailored support plan.

The ATO has also clarified that emergency accommodation, food, transport, medical or other assistance provided by employers to employees affected by COVID-19 may be exempt from FBT, depending on the circumstances. However, employers will still need to meet their ongoing super guarantee obligations for their employees. The ATO says that by law, it cannot vary the contribution due date or waive the superannuation guarantee charge where super guarantee payments are late or unpaid.

Coronavirus stimulus: what’s in it for you?

In an effort to combat the economic effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, on 12 March 2020 the Federal Government announced an economic stimulus package worth $17.6 billion, which it said is expected to provide direct support for up to 6.5 million individuals and 3.5 million businesses. The package includes business investment initiatives, cash flow assistance payments to small and medium entities (SMEs), household stimulus payments and support for impacted sectors, regions and communities, as well as tax administration relief.

Business initiatives

The instant asset write-off threshold will be increased from $30,000 to $150,000 and expanded to include access for businesses with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million) until 30 June 2020.

A time-limited 15-month investment incentive (through to 30 June 2021) will also be provided to support business investment by accelerating depreciation deductions.

Eligible small and medium entities will receive a Boost Cash Flow for Employers payment of up to $25,000. The tax-free payment will provide cash flow support to businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million that employ staff between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2020. Businesses will receive payments of 50% of their Business Activity Statement (BAS) or Instalment Activity Statement (IAS) from 28 April 2020, with refunds to be paid within 14 days.

Eligible small businesses employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50% of an apprentice’s or trainee’s wage for up to nine months from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2020. Where a small business is not able to retain an apprentice, the subsidy will be available to a new employer that employs that same apprentice.

Household stimulus for pensioners

A one-off $750 stimulus payment will be made to pensioners, social security, veteran and other income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. Payments will be made from 31 March 2020 on a progressive basis, with over 90% of payments expected to be made by mid-April. This payment will be tax-free and not count as income for social security, farm household allowance and veteran payments.

TIP: In addition to this initial $750 stimulus payment, the Government announced on 22 March that a further $750 payment will be provided (as part of a secondary stimulus package) to social security and veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. Payments of the secondary $750 amount will be made automatically from 13 July 2020.

There will be one payment per eligible recipient under the first stimulus package, and one payment under the second. If a person qualifies for either or both payments in multiple ways, they will still only receive each payment once (ie there will be a maximum of two $750 payments per eligible person).

Coronavirus stimulus: round 2

To further support businesses and workers in riding out the COVID-19 pandemic and minimise the impact on the overall economy, on 22 March 2020 the Federal Government announced a second round of stimulus measures in addition to the initial announced on 12 March. This second package includes support for individuals and households, including casual workers, sole traders, retirees and people who receive income support payments.

Business measures

Cash payments for small to medium employers

Tax-free payments of up to $100,000 (with a minimum payment of $20,000) will be available for eligible small and medium entities (SMEs) and not-for-profits that employ people and have an aggregated annual turnover under $50 million. Employers will receive a payment equal to 100% of the withholding tax liability on their salary and wages, subject to monetary limits. This payment will be available to most employers from 28 April 2020.

SME loan guarantee scheme

A Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme will be established to support SMEs in getting access to working capital. Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 50% of new loans issued by eligible lenders. The scheme is able to support $40 billion worth of lending to SMEs.

Personal measures

Increase in income support payments supplement

A new temporary “Coronavirus Supplement” of $550 per fortnight will be implemented for people receiving certain income support payments. Eligible recipients will receive the full amount of $550 on top of their payment each fortnight, effectively doubling the current payment amount. The supplement will be paid for the next six months to existing and new recipients of the various Centrelink payments including the JobSeeker Payment (formerly called Newstart Allowance), Youth Allowance Payment for job seekers, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit Payments.

Further $750 for pensioners

In addition to the initial $750 stimulus payment previously announced, a further $750 payment will be provided to social security and veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders. This does not apply to those receiving the temporary Coronavirus Supplement.

Superannuation early release

Individuals in financial distress as a result of the pandemic will be allowed to access a tax-free payment of up to $10,000 from their superannuation in 2019–2020 and a further $10,000 in 2020–2021. Eligible individuals will need to apply online to the ATO through myGov before 1 July 2020 to receive the payment for the 2019–2020 income year.

TIP: Amounts withdrawn from super in this way will not affect any Centrelink payments.

JobKeeper payment

Under the JobKeeper Payment, businesses impacted by the Coronavirus will be able to access a subsidy from the Government to continue paying their employees. Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum period of 6 months.

Employers will be eligible for the subsidy if:
• their business has a turnover of less than $1 billion and their turnover has fallen by more than 30 per cent; or
• their business has a turnover of $1 billion or more and their turnover has fallen by more than 50 per cent; and
• the business is not subject to the Major Bank Levy.

Note: As of 2 April 2020, when this post is published, the JobKeeper payment has not been enacted by Parliament. We will keep you updated when this measure is legislated.

Once this measure is passed,  employees should contact their employers to see if they are eligible to receive the payments.

Coronavirus concessions: state governments

Some states, including New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, have followed in the Federal Government’s footsteps to provide their own stimulus and concessions for mostly small to medium businesses and in some cases to individuals and families. Most of the measures are payroll-tax-related, aimed at giving small to medium businesses a cash flow boost during this difficult time, while other measures including fee waivers, grants, relief payments and concessional loans.

ATO’s FAQ helps to clarify coronavirus impacts

The ATO’s COVID-19 frequently asked questions (FAQ) is a resource tool for people and businesses in the community who need clarifications in relation to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAQ is broken into common questions for individuals, employers, businesses (including internationals) and self managed superannuation funds (SMSFs).

Common questions centre around issues relating to the nationwide shutdown – late or deferring payment obligations; deductibles from working from home; residence status due to travel restrictions; GST and FBT impacts from cancellations; and SMSF losses and strategies.

TIP: The ATO will update this FAQ regularly and welcomes suggestions and more questions. See www.ato.gov.au/Individuals/Dealing-with-disasters/In-detail/Specific-disasters/COVID-19/.

Working from home: what can I deduct?

Have you been directed by your employer to work from home to limit the spread of COVID-19? While working from home has its benefits, there may be extra expenses too, ranging from printing costs to the need for more internet data and perhaps even additional equipment. You may be able to claim a deduction for the additional running costs you incur. The costs you may be able to claim include the work-related portion of any heating, cooling and lighting for the area you’re working from, work-related phone and internet costs, and work-related decline in value of a personally owned computer and associated office equipment. To claim these expenses, you must keep specific records ranging from diary entries to receipts.

More information click on this link from the ATO.

Scams targeting natural disaster victims

Victims of the recent natural disasters beware: there is an SMS scam circulating that purports to give you “a bonus” on your 2020 tax return. The scam urges victims to start the process by filling out a form and provides a link to a what looks like the genuine myGov website. According to the ATO, this is a classic case of scammers impersonating the ATO in an effort to collect personal information including names, birth dates, addresses, emails, phone numbers and online banking login details.

Once this information is obtained, scammers can use it to commit identify theft, including porting your phone, accessing your bank account, obtaining a loan in your name, lodging tax returns, stealing your superannuation and committing other types of fraud, or they could on-sell the information to others who may commit these offences.

If you receive a call from someone saying they are from the ATO but you aren’t sure, the best course of action is to hang up and call the ATO back on the appropriate number listed on its website, or to call your tax agent directly on their listed number to seek advice. While the ATO does send SMS messages and emails and calls taxpayers, it’s important to remember that the ATO will never:

  • send an SMS message or email asking you to click on a hyperlink to log into myGov or other government websites;
  • ask for personally identifying information in order for you to receive a refund;
  • use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or deportation;
  • project its number onto caller ID; or
  • request that you make payments of debt via cardless cash, iTunes or Google Play cards, prepaid Visa cards, cryptocurrency, or direct credit to a personal bank account.

 

If you’ve fallen victim to this or other tax-related scams, don’t be ashamed, but contact the ATO as quickly as possible. The sooner you notify the ATO, the better the outcome is likely to be.

 

The concept of a superannuation guarantee – the legal requirement for your employer to contribute 9.5% of your salary into a nominated super account – should be familiar to everyone, as it makes up the bulk of most people’s future retirement income. You may also salary-sacrifice amounts of your salary to put extra into your super.

Until recently, loopholes in the law meant that your employer could count your salary-sacrificed amounts towards their super guarantee contribution amounts – essentially working against your intention to boost your super. Employers could also calculate their super guarantee obligations based on your post-sacrifice earnings rather than on your full pre-sacrifice earnings.

Depending on your employment agreement, these loopholes meant that if you salary-sacrificed an amount equal to or more than your employer’s super guarantee amount, your employer could choose to not contribute any amount and the legal requirements of the super guarantee would still be met.

TIP: It’s important to note that this wasn’t the original intention of the law, and not all employers would choose to exploit these loopholes. However, where they did, employees who salary-sacrificed could be short-changed and end up with lower super contributions as well as a lower salary overall.

The good news is that the law has now been changed. From 1 January 2020, amounts that you salary-sacrifice to super can’t be used to reduce your employer’s super guarantee obligations, and employers must calculate their super guarantee obligations based on all of your ordinary time earnings (OTE), including any amounts you sacrifice into superannuation that would have otherwise been OTE.

The proposed $10,000 economy-wide cash payment limit has understandably elicited some confusion. While the proposal is not yet law, once enacted it will be a criminal offence for certain entities to make or accept cash payments of $10,000 or more. This is intended to combat the use of cash in black economy activities.

Chief among the questions is to what extent personal transactions will be included in the limit. The government has now released information outlining the circumstances in which the limit would not apply in relation to personal or private transactions.

Among other categories, payments relating to personal or private transactions (excluding transactions involving real property) would not be subject to the limit. Cash gifts to family members (as long as they are not donations to regulated entities such as charities) and inheritances are likely to be exempt. In other words, it is unlikely you will be prosecuted if you give your family members a lavish cash wedding gift or help your kids with a house deposit that happens to be over $10,000.

However, if you occasionally sell private assets (eg a used car) you may need to be careful and take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the other party is acting in the course of an enterprise.