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The Inspector General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) has launched a new investigation into effective communication of taxpayers’ rights to review, complain and appeal decisions made and actions taken by the ATO. The investigation will seek to understand and confirm how effectively, clearly and completely the ATO communicates appropriate information to taxpayers and their representatives on these taxpayers’ rights.

In examining the taxation complaints service, the IGTO has observed that information on rights of appeal and opportunities to raise complains varies across different types of ATO-issued correspondence. In particular, the IGTO found in a number of investigations that ATO correspondence may not clearly and/or completely advise taxpayers and their representatives of their rights to review, complain and appeal.

Initially, the review will focus on ATO communications which concern debt decisions in relation to individuals and small business taxpayers as they have been deemed most “vulnerable”.

After the initial stage, the review will also seek to confirm ATO communications around access to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Small Business Taxation Division.

Tip: The investigation is open to submissions, observations, comments and suggestions on how to improve communication and awareness of taxpayers’ rights of review. If you or your business has had a bad experience with the ATO in regards to your rights, we can help you make your voice heard.

The ATO has extended, from 30 June 2020 to at least 30 September 2020, the “shortcut” rate for claiming work-from-home running expenses. This shortcut eligible taxpayers to claim running expenses incurred between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 at the rate of 80 cents per work hour, provided they keep a record of the number of hours worked from home – for example, using a workplace timesheet.

People eligible to use the shortcut rate are employees and business owners who:

  • work from home to fulfil their employment duties or to run their business during the period 1 March 2020 to 30 September 2020; and
  • incur additional running expenses that are deductible under the tax law.

People who choose not to use the shortcut rate can instead:

  • claim 52 cents per work hour for running costs plus claiming the work-related portion of phone and internet expenses, computer consumables, stationery and the work-related portion of the decline in value of a computer, laptop or similar device; or
  • claim the actual work-related portion of all running expenses, which need to be calculated on a reasonable basis.

The ATO has published a list of common mistakes and misconceptions taxpayers have around tax time:

  • bank details don’t update themselves: the ATO does not keep track of changes to bank nominations for taxpayers to receive tax refunds;
  • it’s not okay to double dip: it’s important to remember that if you’re claiming under the shortcut method (of working from home expenses), you cannot claim a separate additional deduction for any expenses you incur as a result of working from home;
  • home to work travel is not claimable: generally, most people cannot claim the cost of travelling from home to work unless, they are required by their employer to transport bulky tools or equipment and there is not a safe place to store these at the workplace;
  • you can’t just claim a flat $300 if you had no expenses: you don’t need receipts for claims of expenses up to $300, but you must have actually spent the money and be able to show the ATO;
  • work-related expenses need to be work-related: taxpayers can only claim for expenses that are directly related to earning their income;
  • lodging earlier doesn’t always mean getting your refund earlier: each year the ATO automatically includes information from employers, banks, private health insurers (and this year JobKeeper for employees and JobSeeker amounts) in people’s returns. Taxpayers are advised to include all relevant information if lodging before the ATO automatically updates the information, so as to avoid delays in the return.

The ATO is on the look-out for fraudulent schemes designed to take advantage of the Government’s COVID-19 stimulus measures. This includes JobKeeper, early release of superannuation, and boosting cash flow for employers.

The ATO will be using its wide array of data sources to assess and identify inappropriate behaviour. It has also established a confidential tip-off line for the public to raise concerns of any wrongdoing.

“We’ve received intelligence about a number of dodgy schemes, including the withdrawal of money from superannuation and re-contributing it to get a tax deduction. Not only is this not in the spirit of the measure (which is designed to assist those experiencing hardship), severe penalties can be applied to tax avoidance schemes or those found to be breaking the law. If someone recommends something like this that seems too good to be true, well, it probably is”, ATO Deputy Commissioner Will Day said.

Mr Day said the ATO will be conducting checks, “so if you’ve received a benefit as part of the COVID-19 stimulus measures and we discover you are ineligible, you can expect to hear from us. If you think this may apply to you, you should contact us or speak to your tax professional”. Penalties for fraud can include financial penalties and prosecution, and even imprisonment for the most serious cases.

The Government has announced that JobKeeper payments will continue for six months beyond the legislated finish date of 27 September 2020, subject to revamped eligibility rules. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Government will introduce two tiers of payment rates as part of “JobKeeper 2.0” to better reflect the pre-COVID-19 incomes of recipients.

The extension of JobKeeper from 28 September 2020 until 28 March 2021 will also include a requirement for businesses and not-for-profits to demonstrate an actual decline (not merely predict a decline) in turnover under the existing turnover test. The JobKeeper payment will also be stepped down and paid at two rates. Importantly, the existing arrangements for those receiving JobKeeper payments continue until 27 September 2020.

The JobKeeper payment ($1,500 per fortnight until 27 September) is to be reduced and paid at two rates.

Period Rate per fortnight
(full)
Rate per fortnight
(<20 hours worked per week)
28 September 2020 to 3 January 2021 $1,200 $750
4 January 2021 to 28 March 2021 $1,000 $650

Businesses and not-for-profits will be required to nominate which payment rate they are claiming for each of their eligible employees (or business participants) and will have to meet a further decline in turnover test for each of the two periods of extension.

The eligibility rules for employees remain unchanged. Self-employed people will be eligible to receive the JobKeeper payment where they meet the relevant turnover test and are not a permanent employee of another employer.

If you’ve purchased assets for your business, remember that you may be eligible to claim an immediate deduction in your 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 tax returns under the instant asset write-off, which was recently further expanded.

From 12 March to 31 December 2020 inclusive, the instant asset write-off threshold for each asset increased to $150,000 (up from $30,000) for business entities with aggregated annual turnover of less than $500 million (up from $50 million).

To get it right, remember:

  • check if your business is eligible;
  • both new and secondhand assets can be claimed, as long as each asset costs less than $150,000;
  • assets must be first used or installed ready for use between 12 March and 30 June 2020 (to claim for the 2019–2020 year) or from 1 July to 31 December 2020 (to claim for the 2020–2021 year);
  • a car limit applies for passenger vehicles;
  • if the asset is for business and private use, only the business portion can be claimed;
  • you can claim a deduction for the balance of a small business pool if its value is less than $150,000 at the relevant date (before applying depreciation deductions); and
  • different eligibility criteria and thresholds apply to assets first used or installed ready for use before 12 March 2020.

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.

The ATO and Treasury have released a joint statement advising that the previous estimate of the number of employers who would access the JobKeeper program was significantly overstated. Treasury now estimates the number of employees covered under the JobKeeper program to be around 3.5 million (down from a previous estimate of 6.5 million). The estimated cost of JobKeeper has been revised down to around $70 billion (from the original $130 billion estimate).

The overstatement has been attributed to errors made when employers applied for JobKeeper. For example, when estimating their eligibility over 500 businesses with only a single eligible employee actually reported the dollar amount that they expected to receive per fortnightly JobKeeper payment (1,500) instead of the number of their eligible employees (1).

Importantly, this error has no consequences for JobKeeper payments already made, as payments under the scheme depend on the subsequent declaration that businesses make in relation to each and every eligible employee. This declaration does not involve estimates and requires an employer to provide the Tax File Number (TFN) for each eligible employee.

Tip: Employers must declare their eligible employees monthly in order to receive the ongoing payments. JobKeeper declarations for May must be made by 14 June 2020.