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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.

To be eligible for superannuation fund tax concessions, self managed super funds (SMSFs) must be maintained for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to members. This is known as the sole purpose test. Failing the test could expose trustees to civil and criminal penalties in addition to the SMSF losing concessional tax treatment.

Previously, it was thought that any benefit provided directly or indirectly to members or related parties of an SMSF from an investment would contravene the sole purpose test. However, a recent Full Federal Court decision will provide some flexibility to trustees on certain investments. The Court decided that an SMSF investment in a fund to acquire a fraction interest in a property to be leased at market rent to the member’s daughter did not breach the sole purpose test.

While the Full Court found the SMSF had not breached the sole purpose test, it ultimately ruled against the trustee, finding that the investment was an in-house asset and breached the 5% limit. Crucially, the ATO warned it may still apply compliance resources to scrutinise whether an SMSF investment in fractional property investments contravenes other legal requirements.

With all the pandemonium of the new year, your super is probably the last thing on your mind. However, this is precisely the right time to think about implementing some strategies to increase your super for the coming year.

Currently, 5.8 million people in Australia have two or more super accounts. Every year the ATO runs a postcode “lost super” campaign to help raise community awareness. As a consequence of the 2018 campaign, more than 66,000 people consolidated over 105,000 accounts worth over $860 million. For the latest campaign, the ATO has created tables of lost and unclaimed super per state and postcode that anyone can access.

Finding and consolidating your lost super with your active account means you’ll pay fewer management fees and other costs, saving you in the long term.

Another easy way to grow your super is to make sure the super fund that you’re putting your money into is performing well. Recently, the regulator of super funds, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), released “heatmaps” that provide like-for-like comparisons of MySuper products across three key areas: investment performance, fees and costs, and sustainability of member outcomes. While the ultimate purpose of the heatmap is to have trustees with areas of underperformance take action to address it, they can also be an invaluable resource in choosing the right super fund.

The ATO has recently expanded its Tax Avoidance Taskforce activity to include top 500 private groups, high wealth private groups, and medium and emerging private groups.

The Tax Avoidance Taskforce was originally conceived in 2016 to ensure that multinational enterprises, large public and private business pay the right amount of tax. The Taskforce’s main role is to investigate what the ATO considers aggressive tax avoidance arrangements, including profit shifting.

As a part of the expansion, the ATO now has three “programs” for private groups under the Taskforce’s umbrella: top 500 private groups, high wealth private groups, and medium and emerging private groups. The expansion that will perhaps affect the most taxpayers will be the program covering medium and emerging private groups. This program includes private groups linked to Australian resident individuals who, together with their associates, control wealth between $5 million and $50 million, and businesses with an annual turnover of more than $10 million that are not public or foreign owned and are not linked to a high wealth private group. The ATO estimates this will cover around 97% of the total private group population.

In response to the recommendations of the Banking and Financial Services Royal Commission and the ASIC Enforcement Review Taskforce Report, the government has proposed new enforcement and supervision powers for ASIC to restore consumer confidence in the financial system, particularly in relation to financial advice. These new powers include enhanced licensing, banning, warrant and phone tap powers, all designed to ensure that avoidable financial disasters uncovered during the Royal Commission are not repeated again.

While the Banking and Financial Services Royal Commission seems long ago in the minds of many, the people who have been financially affected by dubious practitioners will no doubt carry the scar of mistrust for life. This is precisely why the government has introduced new laws which will give ASIC new enforcement and supervision powers in relation to the financial services sector: to weed out the “bad apples” and restore consumer confidence.

On 20 January 2020 the ATO announced an extension of the tax assistance package for people impacted by the 2019–2020 bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

Commissioner of Taxation Mr Chris Jordan said the 3.5 million businesses, individuals and self managed super funds (SMSFs) in the impacted local government areas will have until 28 May 2020 to lodge and pay BAS and income tax returns. This additional time is on top of the two-month extension previously granted.

Additionally, the ATO said it will fast-track any refunds that are due to taxpayers in the impacted regions. For example, businesses expecting a refund as a result of GST credits due to large purchases to replace stock are encouraged to lodge their activity statements at the first opportunity. The ATO will also remit any interest and penalties applied to tax debts since the commencement of the bushfires.

TIP: A complete list of the impacted areas is available at www.ato.gov.au/individuals/dealing-with-disasters. If you have been affected by the bushfires in a postcode not currently in the list, you can use the ATO Emergency Support Infoline to ask for tailored help: phone 1800 806 218.

In 2018, the ATO issued a controversial draft ruling which took a very strict stance on the four-year time limit for claiming input tax credits and fuel tax credits. The ruling had been used by the ATO to deny input tax credits and fuel tax credits where the Commissioner of Taxation made a decision outside the four-year period on an objection or amendment request, even where the objection or request was made within the period. However, a recent observation by a judge ruling on a related matter has put the ATO’s strict stance in doubt and as a result the ruling (Draft Miscellaneous Taxation Ruling MT 2018/D1) has been withdrawn.

Where the Commissioner makes a decision on an objection or requests for amendment in relation to input tax credits and/or fuel tax credits outside the four-year period but the initial objection or amendment request was lodged within the time limit, the taxpayer will no longer be automatically denied the credits in situations where the decision is in the taxpayer’s favour.

As a result, any taxpayer that the draft ruling has affected is encouraged to contact the ATO.

Under the superannuation guarantee framework, employers are required to contribute a minimum percentage (currently 9.5%) of their employees’ ordinary time earnings into superannuation. Employers that fail to do so will be liable for a penalty called the superannuation guarantee charge, payable to the ATO. If you’re a high-income earner with multiple employers, this requirement has the very real chance of pushing you over the concessional contributions cap of $25,000.

To avoid this unintended consequence, laws have recently been passed so that eligible high-income earners with multiple employers can opt out of the super guarantee regime. From 1 January 2020, employees with more than one employer who expect their combined employers’ contributions to exceed the concessional contributions cap can apply for an “employer shortfall exemption certificate” with the ATO.

Tip: It’s a good idea to speak to your employers before deciding to apply for an exemption certificate, as it may impact relevant awards or your workplace agreements.

With drought sweeping across the country, farmers are being offered access to concessional loans, grants and special allowances to help ease the immediate financial burden. While it is difficult to predict when the drought will break, for those who are in the process of navigating their way out of immediate financial strain, there are ways to future proof your farm or primary production business by taking advantage of various tax concessions.

Some of the immediate assistance measures include concessional loans and the farm household allowance, through which lump sum payments of up to $12,000 can be paid to eligible farm households.

The allowance can also be in the form of fortnightly payments for a maximum period of four cumulative years at the same rate as the Newstart allowance. This allowance may be available to both the farmer and their partner, provided certain conditions are met. An activity supplement of up to $4,000 to pay for study, training or professional financial advice may also be available to eligible households.

In addition to the immediate assistance, primary producers can obtain ongoing benefits of various tax concessions, including the instant asset write-off, immediate deductions for fodder storage assets, and income averaging to assist with cash flow.

Tip: If you’re experiencing hardship due to drought, we can contact the ATO on your behalf or assist with your application for farm household allowance to ease the immediate financial burden.

The working holiday tax rate (commonly known as the “backpacker tax”) has generally applied from 1 January 2017 to individuals who have working holiday or work and holiday visas. In essence, the first $37,000 of “working holiday taxable income” is taxed at 15%, and then the balance is taxed at the standard rates applicable to residents.

Thus, working holiday makers are taxed at a higher rate on their first $37,000 than residents, because the holiday makers don’t get the benefit of the Australian tax-free threshold ($18,200 for 2019–2020).

A recent Federal Court case centred on a British citizen, who lived in Australia for almost two years. During most of that time she lived in the same share house accommodation in Sydney, and only left for short stints to travel to other areas. Essentially, the case came down to whether or not she was a resident of Australia and if so, whether the non-discrimination clause in the Australia–United Kingdom double taxation agreement prevented her from being taxed at the higher “backpacker” rate. The Federal Court found that she was an Australian resident for tax purposes, and she should not be taxed at the higher rate.

Some have seen this decision as a win for all working holiday makers, but it’s likely to have a fairly narrow application. Coupled with the ATO still considering an appeal, this area of law is far from settled.

Tip: If you’re unsure whether this decision affects you, we can help you work out whether you’re a tax resident and may be eligible to pay less tax on your working holiday income.

If you have a business in addition to your main employment, the non-commercial loss rules could apply to you, which may prevent you from deducting your business losses against your other income.

Depending on your business activity, as long as you satisfy certain conditions your business will not be subject to the non-commercial loss rules. If your business doesn’t satisfy these conditions, don’t worry – you can also apply to the ATO for an exemption under certain circumstances.

A “non-commercial” business activity in this context is any business where the deductions exceed the assessable income in any particular year.

If you’re a primary producer or a professional artist and your income from other sources unrelated to the business is less than $40,000, the non-commercial loss rules will not apply to you. You will be able to deduct any losses from the business against your other income, but you should be aware of the $40,000 threshold, which may change from year to year based on your personal circumstances.

Tip: If you get the bulk of your income from being an employee and run a business on the side, we can help you figure out if you’re subject to the non-commercial loss rules. We can also help make a formal request to the ATO to allow you an exemption from the rules.

Crowdfunding has fast become a go-to strategy for people in need of large amounts of money quickly, but is the money raised considered to be income and therefore taxable?

Crowdfunding is when an individual or business (the promoter) uploads a description of a campaign (eg to fund an activity, a project or a new invention) along with the amount they want to raise to a platform like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo or Pozible.

Other people online (the contributors) can then choose to support the campaign or cause by pledging money.

Many campaigns are donation-based. This is where contributors pledge an amount of money without receiving anything in return. If you’re a contributor in this case, you won’t be able to deduct an amount contributed in a crowdfunding campaign as a “donation” in your Australian tax return unless the cause you’ve donated to is an endorsed or legislated deductible gift recipient (DGR).

Other campaigns can be rewards-based. In these cases, the promoter provides a reward, such as goods, services or rights, to contributors in return for their payments. For example, differing levels of campaign-related merchandise may be available. Usually, your acquisition of goods or services for making a contribution means the payment is considered private in nature and not deductible.

As the promoter of a campaign (either donation-based or rewards-based), whether the money you receive is considered to be taxable depends on the circumstances. Generally, if the campaign is related to running/furthering your business or is a profit-making plan, then any money received would be classed as income.

Tip: If you’re thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign or have already had success with one, we can help you deal with all the tax consequences, so you can concentrate on making your business or project a success.