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For JobKeeper fortnights beginning on or after 3 August 2020, the reference date for determining certain employee eligibility conditions has been changed from 1 March 2020 to 1 July 2020. The purpose of this change is to extend the scope of JobKeeper so that “it also benefits employers of more recently engaged employees”.

Importantly, the changed rules preserve the existing eligibility of employees for JobKeeper payments; that is, those for whom employers are currently receiving JobKeeper, termed “1 March 2020 employees” because they satisfied the rules as at that date.

As a result, for JobKeeper fortnights beginning on or after 3 August 2020, an individual can be an eligible employee if they:

  • meet the eligibility requirements with reference to the new 1 July 2020 date; or
  • qualify as a 1 March 2020 employee.

Newly eligible employees

The later reference date provides the opportunity for qualifying employers to access JobKeeper for those employees who they engaged after 1 March 2020 and who were in an employment relationship as at 1 July 2020. That is, for new employees engaged after 1 March.

The changes also allow employers to qualify for JobKeeper payments for those employees who do not qualify as 1 March 2020 employees, but became eligible by meeting the conditions under the new 1 July 2020 reference date.

Existing and re-employed employees

The amending rules make no changes to the existing eligibility of employees who are already covered by JobKeeper; that is, those for whom the employer has been receiving the benefit based on their status as at 1 March 2020. In other words, eligible 1 March 2020 employees do not need to retest (and potentially lose) their eligibility for their employer due to the introduction of the 1 July 2020 date, or satisfy any new nomination requirements.

Although employees do not qualify as 1 March 2020 employees if their employment has ceased since 1 March, they may qualify for JobKeeper if they are engaged by another employer as at 1 July 2020. Further, if 1 March 2020 employees are made redundant by an employer and are later re-employed by the same employer (including after 1 July 2020), there is scope for them to qualify without further testing.

Employer obligations

Employers that are already participating in the JobKeeper program are required to give a notice to all employees about the revised JobKeeper reference date, other than:

  • employees to whom the employer has previously given a notice in writing advising that the employer has elected to participate in the JobKeeper scheme;
  • employees who had previous provided the employer with a nomination form in relation to the JobKeeper scheme;
  • individuals who the employer reasonably believes do not satisfy the 1 July 2020 requirements; and
  • employers that are ACNC-registered charities that have elected to disregard certain government and related supplies and the individual’s wages and benefits are funded from such government and related sources.

Further, to be eligible for the JobKeeper payment for any newly eligible employees under the 1 July 2020 reference date, a qualifying employer must provide notice to the ATO of information about that employee and their nomination. Where an employer has provided this notification to the ATO for entitlement to receive JobKeeper payments in respect of the eligible employee, the employer must notify the employee within seven days.

For those employers entering JobKeeper for the first time, the notification requirement will apply to all of their employees.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced further changes to JobKeeper on 7 August 2020. The changes are intended to ensure that eligibility for the revised JobKeeper scheme – to commence on 28 September 2020 – will be based on a single quarter tax period, rather than multiple quarters as previously announced. Employees hired as at 1 July 2020 will now also be eligible to receive JobKeeper.

Treasury has updated its JobKeeper factsheets as at 7 August 2020 to incorporate the PM’s announcements.

The JobKeeper rules implemented in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were due to finish on 27 September 2020. The Government then announced on 21 July 2020 that the scheme would be extended for six months (until 28 March 2021), in an amended form.

The key highlights of JobKeeper Version 2 – to start on 28 September – are that:

  • the extended scheme will apply at a top rate of $1,200 per employee (down from the current $1,500) per JobKeeper fortnight from 28 September 2020 until 3 January 2021, then drop to $1,000 until 28 March 2021;
  • lower rates will apply for part-time and casual employees; and
  • businesses will be required to re-test their eligibility for the payment scheme to access the extension.

Changes to turnover test

The latest changes relate to the eligibility test announced in JobKeeper Version 2.

JobKeeper Version 2 originally required that, from 28 September 2020, businesses and not-for-profits seeking to claim JobKeeper payments would have to meet a further decline in turnover test for each of the two periods of extension, as well as meeting the other existing eligibility requirements. That is, at that time businesses would have been required to reassess their eligibility for the JobKeeper extension with reference to their actual turnover in the June and September quarters 2020.

The PM has eased the proposed changes to turnover tests for businesses Australia-wide.

The changes mean that businesses will now only be required to show the requisite actual decline in turnover for the September quarter, rather than for both the June and September quarters. Similarly, businesses will only need to demonstrate a decline in turnover for the December 2020 quarter, rather than each of the June, September and December 2020 quarters.

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.