News

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.

The ATO has advised that it has extended and expanded its pilot program which offers an independent review service to eligible small businesses disputing income tax related audits. The pilot will continue until 31 December 2020.

The independent review is conducted by an officer from the ATO’s Review and Dispute Resolution business line. This officer will not have been involved in the audit and will bring an independent “fresh set of eyes” to the review. The independent reviewer will consider the documents setting out the taxpayer’s position and the ATO audit position. They will schedule a case conference with the taxpayer and the ATO audit officer generally within one month of receiving the taxpayer’s review request. The case conference is an opportunity for all parties to assist the independent reviewer with understanding the facts and contentions.

The audit case officer will contact a taxpayer if it is eligible for an independent review. A written offer of independent review will also be included in the audit finalisation letter.

TIP: The ATO emphasises that taxpayers will retain their full dispute and objection rights even if they seek an independent review. Taxpayers will also retain these rights if they are not eligible for an independent review or if they choose not to seek an independent review.

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 ATO has started contacting certain employers that provide car parking fringe benefits to their employees to ensure that all fringe benefits tax (FBT) obligations are being met. Generally, car parking fringe benefits arise where the car is parked on the business premises of the entity, used by the employee to travel between home and their primary place of employment and is parked for more than four hours between 7 am and 7 pm, and where a commercial parking station located within 1 km of the premises charges more than the car parking threshold amount.

Employers have a choice of three methods to calculate the taxable value of the benefits: the commercial parking station method, the average cost method and the market value method. The method currently under ATO scrutiny is the market value method, which states that the taxable value of a car parking benefit is the amount that the recipient could reasonably be expected to have to pay if the provider and the recipient were dealing with each other under arm’s length conditions.

Do you know who to turn to when you have a complaint about the ATO? Whether you’re an individual or business, the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) should be your first port of call.

As the Taxation Ombudsman, the IGTO provides all taxpayers with an independent complaints investigation service. As the Inspector-General of Taxation, it also conducts reviews and provides independent advice and recommendations to government, ATO and other departments.

The IGTO can investigate and assist with issues including extensions of time to pay; the ATO’s debt recovery actions; delays with processing tax returns; delays in ATO communication and responses; information the ATO has considered regarding taxpayers’ matters; understanding the ATO’s actions and decisions; and identifying available options and other relevant agencies that can help.

Complaints can be made online and via phone or post, and services are offered in languages other than English as well as for people who are hearing, sight or speech impaired.

In recent months, parts of Australia have been battered by a combination of fire and floods. As people try to piece their lives together in the aftermath, insurance payouts can go a long way in helping rebuild homes and replace lost items.

However, if you receive an insurance payout in relation to your business, home business or rental property you need to be aware there may be associated tax consequences. For example, if you keep a home office or run a business from home, or make money from renting out your home on a short-stay website, you may be subject to capital gains tax (CGT) when receiving an insurance payout on the home.

Businesses that receive an insurance payment may be subject to varying tax consequences depending on what the payment is designed to replace.

Tip: If you’ve recently received an insurance payment or you’re expecting one, contact us to find out more about how your tax obligations could be affected.

New laws are now in place to target illegal phoenixing of companies in Australia.

Phoenix activity is when a new company is created – “rising from the ashes” of another company that was in debt and has been deliberately liquidated – to continue the business of the old company while avoiding having to pay its debts. Recent estimates are that illegal phoenix activity directly costs Australian businesses, employees and governments between $2.85 billion and $5.13 billion each year.

To combat this type of debt and tax evasion, the new laws target a range of behaviours, including preventing property transfers to defeat creditors, improving the accountability requirements for resigning company directors, allowing the ATO to collect estimates of anticipated GST liabilities and authorising the ATO to retain tax refunds where lodgements are outstanding.

Australian tax residents are taxed in Australia on their worldwide income. While most do the right thing and declare all their income, some people and businesses try to avoid paying tax by exploiting secrecy provisions and information-sharing gaps between countries.

A recent coordinated effort by the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (J5) has yielded evidence of tax evasion by Australians. The J5 consists of the tax and revenue agencies of Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands and was initially formed in 2018 to fight global tax evasion. The countries share intelligence on international tax crime as well as money laundering.

According to the ATO, several hundred Australians are suspected of participating in arrangements with an international financial institution in Central America whose products and services are believed to be facilitating worldwide money laundering and tax evasion. Multiple investigations are currently under way, and anyone with information about the scheme or other similar arrangements is encouraged to contact the ATO.

The ATO has a network of international tax treaties and information exchange agreements with over 100 jurisdictions. In recent years over 2,500 exchanges of information have occurred, enabling the ATO to identify unpaid tax amounts totalling $1 billion.

TIP: The message from the ATO is that anyone with offshore income or assets is better off declaring their interests voluntarily. Those who do so may be eligible for reductions in related administrative penalties and interest charges.