News

The ATO has recently announced it’s keeping an eye out for areas of concern in relation to JobKeeper, including what may constitute “fraudulent behaviour”.

It is paying special attention to situations where employers may have used the JobKeeper scheme in ways that avoided paying employees their full and rightful entitlements.

Businesses are being examined where the ATO is concerned they may have:

  • made claims for employees without a nomination notice or have not paid their employees the correct JobKeeper amount (before tax);
  • made claims for employees where there is no history of an employment relationship;
  • amended their prior business activity statements to increase sales in order to meet the turnover test; or
  • recorded an unexplained decline in turnover, followed by a significant increase.

 

Individuals are also being investigated where the ATO suspects they may have knowingly made multiple claims for themselves as employees or as eligible business participants, or made claims both as an employee and an eligible business participant.

Small businesses now have another pathway to resolve tax disputes, with the ATO making its independent review service a permanent option for eligible small businesses (those with a turnover of less than $10 million) after a successful multi-year pilot.

The service’s original pilot commenced in 2018 and centered around income tax audits in Victoria and South Australia. It was expanded in 2020 to include income tax audits in all other Australian states and territories, along with other areas of tax including GST, excise, luxury car tax, wine equalisation tax and fuel tax credits.

“Small businesses who participated in our pilot told us they found the process to be fair and independent, irrespective of the independent review outcome, so this is a great result, and is a big part of why we are locking this service in permanently”, ATO Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Geale has said.

If your small business is eligible for a review of the ATO’s finalised audit findings, your ATO case officer will make contact and a written offer of independent review will be included in the audit finalisation letter.

Tip: An offer to use the independent review service won’t be the first opportunity you get to respond to an ATO audit. Initial findings will be disclosed in an interim paper, so you’ll have a chance to raise areas of disagreement before receiving the final audit letter.

If you wish to proceed with the review, you’ll need to contact the ATO through the relevant email address within 14 days of the date of the audit finalisation letter, clearly specifying and outlining each area of your disagreement with the audit position.

You’ll be asked to complete and return a consent form to extend the amendment period, which will allow the ATO to complete the review before the period of review for the relevant assessment ends.

Once your business obtains approval to use the review service, an independent reviewer will be allocated to the case and will contact you to discuss the process. This officer will be from a different part of the ATO to your audit case officer, and will not have been involved in the original audit.

It’s important to note that superannuation, FBT, fraud and evasion finding, and interest are not covered by the independent review service. If your dispute with the ATO relates to those areas, or if you don’t want to use the independent review service, your other options including lodging an objection or using an in-house facilitation service. You can also raise matters with the Inspector-General of Taxation and Tax Ombudsman or the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

If your business has provided any benefits to your employees, you may be liable for fringe benefits tax (FBT). This includes benefits to current, prospective and former employees, as well as their associates. It’s important to keep in mind that this applies no matter what structure your business has – sole trader, partnership, trustee, corporation, unincorporated association, etc. If a benefit was provided in respect of employment, then it may be a taxable fringe benefit.

Although the Australian income tax year runs from 1 July to 30 June, the FBT year is different, running from 1 April to 31 March the following year – so now is the time to consider your business’s FBT obligations and organise your records for the year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.

TIP: Business FBT returns and payments are generally due by 21 May if you lodge yourself, or by 25 June if we lodge electronically as your registered tax agent.

In total, there are 13 different types of taxable fringe benefits, each with their own specific valuation rules. The FBT tax rate of 47% may seem fearsome, but there are ways to reduce the amount of FBT your business may have to pay where a benefit has been provided.

One of the simplest ways to reduce the amount of your business’s FBT liability is for your employees to make payments towards the cost of providing the fringe benefit. This is known as employee contribution, and certain conditions still apply.

Your business can also take advantage of various exemptions and concessions to reduce FBT liability, but you’ll need to keep specific and careful records, including employee declarations and invoices and receipts. As a general rule, you should keep these documents for at least five years after the relevant FBT return is lodged.

The ATO is reminding owners of businesses that provide various services to lodge their taxable payments annual report (TPAR) for the 2019–2020 income year. It estimates that around 280,000 businesses were required to lodge a TPAR for the 2019–2020 financial year, but at the beginning of March around 60,000 businesses still had not complied with the lodgment requirements. The reports were originally due on 28 August 2020. To avoid possible penalties, these businesses are encouraged to lodge as soon as possible.

The ATO notes that many businesses that have engaged delivery services (including food delivery services) though a contractor/subcontractor may not know they have to lodge a report.

TIP: Your business doesn’t need to provide the relevant services exclusively to be captured under the TPAR system – if you only provide the service for a part of the year, or even if it is only a small part of your business, you may be required to lodge a TPAR.

The TPAR was introduced to combat the “black economy” which is estimated to cost the Australian community around $50 billion, or 3% of gross domestic product (GDP). It is designed to help the ATO identify contractors or subcontractors who either don’t report or under-report their income (eg through hiding amounts received as “cash in hand”).

The report is required for businesses that make payments to contractors/subcontractors and provide any of the following services:

  • building and construction;
  • cleaning services;
  • courier services, including delivery of items or goods (letters, packages, food, etc) by vehicle or bicycle, or on foot;
  • road freight services;
  • IT services, either on site or remotely; and
  • security, investigation or surveillance services.

For example, during the past year many eateries, grocery stores, pharmacies and other general retailers pivoted to providing home delivery for their customers. As such, they may have needed to engage contractors or subcontactors to provide courier services. If the total income received for these deliveries or courier services amount to 10% or more of their total business income, they will be required to lodge a TPAR even though they may not have needed to do so previously.

If your business is required to lodge a TPAR, the details you’ll need to report about each contractor should be easy to find and are generally contained on the invoice you receive from them. This includes details such as their ABN, name and address, and the gross amount paid for the financial year (including GST).

TIP: Think your business may needed to lodge a TPAR ASAP? If you’re not sure or just need some help with lodging the report, we have the expertise to help you.

A number of important COVID-19 related government stimulus and support measures are now coming to an end, and some others have begun phasing out, which will occur over a slightly longer period.

This means that businesses and individuals need to prepare for an environment where the government safety net is not as wide.

TIP: If you or your business need information on managing your financial arrangements as you face the winding down of these government supports, we’re here to help – contact us today.

The following are, at the time of writing, among the measures that will cease at the end of March 2021:

  • JobKeeper (ends 28 March);
  • Coronavirus Supplement (ends 31 March);
  • the temporary COVID-19 qualification rules for JobSeeker payment and youth allowance (end 31 March);
  • HomeBuilder (ends 31 March); and
  • some apprenticeship wage subsidies (end 31 March).

Having insurance through superannuation can be a tax-effective and cost-effective way of protecting yourself and your loved ones. Most funds offer three different types of insurance through super, each covering different contingencies: life insurance, total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance and income protection insurance.

Life cover pays a lump sum or income stream to your beneficiaries when you die, or if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. TPD insurance pays a benefit if you become permanently or seriously disabled and are unlikely to work again. Income protection insurance pays you a regular income for a specified period if you can’t work due to temporary disability or illness.

TIP: Depending on your situation, you may choose to hold insurance of one type or multiple types through your super, with the premiums automatically deducted from your super balance.

It’s estimated that around 70% of Australians who have life insurance hold it through their super fund. However, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has noted new and concerning developments that may see the costs of this insurance go up.

According to the data APRA has collected on life insurance claims and dispute statistics, premiums per insured member within super funds escalated during 2019 and 2020. APRA has likened this trend to what occurred between 2012 and 2016 when, after a period of significant premium reductions, insurers experienced significant losses. This led to large premium increases and more restrictive cover terms for insurance holders.

APRA notes that should this trend continue, super members are likely to be adversely affected by further substantial increases in insurance premiums and/or reductions in the value and quality of life insurance in superannuation. The regulator goes as far as saying that the ongoing viability and availability of life insurance through super may be at risk, which will impact a large proportion of the population.

It’s not time to panic just yet, but it’s important to regularly review what insurance you actually need, what cover you have through your super, and what you’re paying for it, as premiums can add up and erode your super – especially if you’re unnecessarily paying them to multiple funds!

TIP: Many funds allow you to adjust your insurance cover (either up or down) to suit changes in your situation, with corresponding premiums. And if you’re not happy with the prices or levels of cover from your fund, you can always look into insurance offerings available separately from your super.

For now, APRA is continuing to monitor the situation to ensure that registrable superannuation entity (RSE) licensees take appropriate steps to safeguard pricing, value and benefits for members that adequately reflect the underlying risks and expected experience.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Future, Your Super) Bill 2021 has been introduced to Parliament to implement some of the “Your Future, Your Super” measures announced in the 2020–2021 Federal Budget. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said the measures are intended to save $17.9 billion over 10 years by holding underperforming super funds to account and strengthening protections around people’s retirement savings. The changes include:

  • “stapling” your chosen super fund so it follows you when you change jobs, and you don’t end up paying fees for multiple accounts;
  • requiring funds to pass an annual performance test, and report underperformance to fund regulators and members;
  • strengthening trustees’ obligations to only act in the best financial interests of fund members; and
  • creating an interactive online YourSuper comparison tool which will encourage funds to compete harder for members’ super.

If you’re nearing retirement and have a large amount in your transfer balance account, it may be wise to delay until 1 July 2021 to take advantage of the upcoming pension transfer cap increase from $1.6 million to $1.7 million due to indexation.

At the time you first commence a retirement phase superannuation income stream, your “personal transfer balance cap” is set at the general transfer balance cap for that financial year.

Essentially, the transfer balance cap is a lifetime limit on the total amount of super that you can transfer into retirement phase income streams, including most pensions and annuities, so a larger cap amount means you can have a bit more money in your pocket throughout your retirement.

This cap amount takes into account all retirement phase income streams and retirement phase death benefit income streams, but the age pension and other types of government payments and pensions from foreign super funds don’t count towards it.

The ATO has confirmed that when the general transfer balance cap is indexed to $1.7 million from 1 July 2021, there won’t be a single cap that applies to all individuals. Rather, every individual will have their own personal transfer balance cap of between $1.6 million and $1.7 million, depending on their circumstances.

Tip: Commencing a pension is a complex area and care needs to be taken to get it right for a comfortable retirement. You may wish to seek advice from a licenced financial advisor for more information.

The ATO is kicking into gear in 2021 with another two data-matching programs specifically related to the JobMaker Hiring Credit and early access to superannuation related to COVID-19. While the data collected will mostly be used to identify compliance issues in relation to JobMaker and early access to super, it will also be used to identify compliance issues surrounding other COVID-19 economic stimulus measures, including JobKeeper payments and cash flow boosts.

As a refresher, the temporary early access to super measure allowed citizens or permanent residents of Australian or New Zealand to withdraw up to two amounts of $10,000 from their super in order to deal with adverse economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The JobMaker Hiring Credit is a payment scheme for businesses that hire additional workers. Both measures have particular eligibility conditions to meet for access.

The ATO expects that data relating to more than three million individuals will be collected from Services Australia (Centrelink) for the temporary early access to super program, as well as data about around 450,000 positions related to JobMaker. Approximately 100,000 individuals’ data will also be collected from the state and territory correctional facility regulators.

While the data collected will primarily be used to verify application, registration and lodgment obligations as well as identify compliance issues and initiate compliance activities, the ATO will also use it to improve voluntary compliance, and to ensure that the COVID-19 economic response is providing timely support to affected workers, businesses and the broader community.

Important changes to Australia’s insolvency laws commenced operation on 1 January 2021. The Federal Government has called these the most important changes to Australia’s insolvency framework in 30 years.

The measures apply to incorporated businesses with liabilities less than $1 million. The intention is that the rules change from a rigid “one size fits all” model to a
more flexible “debtor in possession” model, which will allow eligible small businesses to restructure their existing debts while remaining in control of their business. For those businesses that are “unable to survive”, a new simplified “liquidation pathway” will apply for small businesses to allow faster and lower-cost liquidation.

The measures are expected to cover around 76% of businesses currently subject to insolvency, 98% of which have fewer than 20 employees. The new rules do not apply to partnerships or sole traders.

To be eligible to access this new process a company must:

  • be incorporated under the Corporations Act 2001;
  • have total liabilities which do not exceed $1 million on the day the company enters the process – this excludes employee entitlements;
  • resolve that it is insolvent or likely to become insolvent at some future time and that a small business restructuring practitioner should be appointed; and
  • appoint a small business restructuring practitioner to oversee the restructuring process, including working with the business to develop a debt restructuring plan and restructuring proposal statement.