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ATO warning: watch out for tax avoidance schemes

09th Feb, 2021

Tax planning or tax avoidance – do you know the difference? Tax planning is a legitimate and legal way of arranging your financial affairs to keep your tax to a minimum, provided you make the arrangements within the intent of the law. Any tax minimisation schemes that are outside the spirit of the law are referred to as tax avoidance, and could attract the ATO’s attention.

The ATO has outlined some common features of tax avoidance schemes, and we can help you to steer clear of them. While it’s not always easy to identify these schemes, the old adage of “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” is a good rule of thumb.

Tax avoidance schemes range from mass-marketed arrangements advertised to the public, to individualised arrangements offered directly to experienced investors. Other schemes exploit the social/environmental conscience of people or their generosity. As different as these schemes are, the common threads involve promises of reducing taxable income, increasing deductions, increasing rebates or entire avoidance of tax and other obligations.

Schemes may include complex transactions or distort the way funds are used in order to avoid tax or other obligations. They may also incorrectly classify revenue as capital, exploit concessional tax rates, or inappropriately move funds through several entities including trusts to avoid or minimise payable tax.

Currently, the ATO has its eyes on retirement planning schemes, private company profit extraction and certain problematic financial products.

TIP: If you’ve come across something that seems too good to be true, or you’re considering an investment or arrangement, we can help you decipher whether it could constitute a tax avoidance scheme. Don’t risk a penalty – contact us today.

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Working from home deductions: “shortcut” rate until 30 June 2021

09th Feb, 2021

The ATO advises that the “shortcut” rate for claiming work-from-home running expenses has been extended again, in recognition that many employees and business owners are still required to work from home due to COVID-19. This shortcut deduction rate was previously extended to 31 December 2020, but will now be available until at least 30 June 2021.

Eligible employees and business owners therefore can choose to claim additional running expenses incurred between 1 March 2020 and 30 June 2021 at the rate of 80 cents per work hour, provided they keep a record (such as a timesheet or work logbook) of the number of hours worked from home during the period.

The expenses covered by the shortcut rate include lighting, heating, cooling and cleaning costs, electricity for electronic items used for work, the decline in value and repair of home office items such as furniture and furnishings in the area used for work, phone and internet expenses, computer consumables, stationery and the decline in value of a computer, laptop or similar device.

TIP: This shortcut rate will suit many people, but if you choose to use it for your additional work-from-home running expenses, you can’t also claim any further deductions for the same items. We can help you decide whether the shortcut rate is the best option for your situation.

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JobMaker Hiring Credit rules and reporting

09th Feb, 2021

With a range of government COVID-19 economic supports such as the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes winding down in the next few months, businesses that are seeking to employ additional workers but still need a bit of help can now apply for the JobMaker Hiring Credit Scheme. Unlike the JobKeeper Payment, where the money has to be passed onto your employees, the JobMaker Hiring Credit is a payment that your business gets to keep. Depending on new employees’ ages, eligible businesses may be able to receive payments of up to $200 a week per new employee.

TIP: The scheme started on 7 October 2020, and employers will be able to claim payments relating to employees hired up until 6 October 2021. The first claim period for JobMaker starts on 1 February 2021 and businesses must first register with the ATO. To claim the payment in the first JobMaker period, your business must register by 30 April 2021.

To be eligible for the scheme, you need to satisfy the basic conditions of operating a business in Australia, holding an ABN, and being registered for PAYG withholding. Your business will also need to be up to date with its income tax and GST obligations for two years up to the end of the JobMaker period you claim for, and satisfy conditions for payroll amount and headcount increases. Non-profit organisations and some deductible gift recipients (DGRs) may also be eligible.

Beware, however, that businesses receiving the JobKeeper Payment cannot claim the JobMaker Hiring Credit for the same fortnight.

For example, businesses that wish to claim the payment for the first JobMaker period must not have claimed any JobKeeper payments starting on or after 12 October 2020, and employers currently claiming other wage subsidies – including those related to apprentices, trainees, young people and long-term unemployed people – cannot receive the JobMaker subsidy for the same employee.

If you think your business may be eligible, the next step is to determine whether you are employing eligible additional employees.

Generally, the employee needs to:

  • be aged 16–35 when their employment started (payment rates are $200 per week for 16 to 29 year-olds and $100 for 30 to 35 year-olds);
  • be employed on or after 7 October 2020 and before 7 October 2021;
  • have worked or been paid for an average of at least 20 hours per week during the JobMaker period;
  • have not already provided a JobMaker Hiring Credit employee notice to another current employer; and
  • received a JobSeeker Payment, Parenting Payment or Youth Allowance (except if they were receiving Youth Allowance due to full-time study or as a new apprentice) for at least 28 consecutive days in the 84 days before to starting employment.

Since the aim of JobMaker is to subsidise an increase in the number of employees a business hires – not to reduce the cost of replacing employees – businesses wishing to claim the payment must also demonstrate increases in both in headcount and employee payroll amount.

This is meant to reduce instances of rorting by businesses that might replace existing non-eligible employees with eligible employees. Employers will need to send information such as their baseline headcount and payroll amounts to the ATO for compliance purposes.

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ATO advises of PAYG instalment and company tax rate error

01st Dec, 2020

On 10 November 2020, the ATO advised that the recent reduction in the company tax rate had not been applied correctly in its systems from 1 July 2020. The error, which resulted in pay-as-you-go (PAYG) instalments being calculated using the former rate of 27.5% and not the correct 26%, affected companies that are base rate entities with an aggregated turnover of less than $50 million.

The ATO has now corrected the error and will issue a new PAYG instalment letter to affected companies reflecting their correct instalment rate or amount.

The ATO says that all future activity statements will have the correct rate applied.

If you have varied your instalment rate or amount, the variation will continue until the start of the next income year. You can continue to vary your activity statements if your rate or amount does not reflect your current trading situation.

TIP: If your business has a tax amount payable, there are a range of ATO support options available, including the ability to enter into a payment plan.

Small businesses who have lodged and paid

If you have lodged your activity statements and paid an amount based on the incorrect instalment calculation, the ATO will refund the overpaid amount shortly. No further action is needed.

Small businesses yet to lodge

When you lodge:

  • if you choose to lodge based on the current instalment calculation on your activity statement, the ATO will apply the correct rate and refund any excess amount due to the error; or
  • if you have intended to vary your instalment rate or amount, you can still vary, and the ATO will not adjust the varied amounts.

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ATO post-COVID expectations for businesses

01st Dec, 2020

The ATO has recently outlined its expectations for businesses post-COVID. Overall, it warns companies against using loopholes to obtain benefits from the various government stimulus packages and urged them to follow not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law. Specifically, it reminds taxpayers that measures such as the expanded instant asset write-off and the loss carry-back scheme should not be used in artificial arrangements for businesses to obtain an advantage.

In a recent speech, ATO Second Commissioner of Client Engagement Jeremy Hirschhorn outlined the expectations for businesses, noting that while companies are largely compliant – with 92.5% voluntary compliance at lodgment and 96.3% after compliance activity – the ATO is seeking to increase the percentages to 96% and 98% respectively.

Corporate taxpayers can use ATO information to compare their performance against those of their peers in relation to income tax. The ATO also urges those taxpayers to use its GST analytics tool, which allows businesses to reconcile financial statements to business activity statements (BASs) and to follow its GST best practice governance guide.

Businesses have been entrusted with leading economic recovery via access to a range of government stimulus measures, and with this trust comes increased expectations around corporate behaviour – including tax. Ultimately, Mr Hirschhorn said, a tax system is about underpinning a country’s social contract by collecting the revenue that funds its program and services.

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Data-matching program: apprentices and trainees

17th Nov, 2020

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) has commenced a new ongoing data-matching program with the ATO in relation to the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees (SAT) measure. The program seeks to confirm the eligibility of employers receiving the subsidy, as well as stamp out any potential double-dipping of government assistance (for example, claiming both SAT and JobKeeper support at the same time for the same employee).

Under SAT, employers can apply for a wage subsidy of 50% of the apprentice’s or trainee’s wage paid until 31 March 2021. To be eligible, an apprentice must have been in an Australian apprenticeship with a small business as at 1 March 2020. SAT has since been expanded to include medium sized businesses that had an apprentice in place on 1 July 2020. Employers of any size who re-engage an eligible out-of-trade apprentice are also eligible to claim the SAT wage subsidy. However, there are restrictions on when an employer can claim SAT for an eligible apprentice.

Data relating to around 117,000 apprentices and trainees and more than 70,000 employers will be transferred between DESE and the ATO. The program will be ongoing, with data transfer to occur at regular intervals as required over the life of the SAT measure.

Where the data-matching program detects a discrepancy or an anomaly that requires verification, DESE will contact the business and provide them with an opportunity to verify the accuracy of the information on which the eligibility was based. Businesses will be given at least 28 days to respond and any relevant individual circumstances will be taken into consideration.

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