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Proposed changes to stage 3 tax cuts announced

25th Feb, 2024

With the government finally caving into pressure to change the stage 3 income tax cuts despite its previous promises to keep the already legislated measures, new proposed tax rates have been flagged to come into place from 1 July 2024, largely – in comparison to the legislated measures – benefiting those earning less than $45,000.

The talk about the stage 3 income tax cuts has reached fever pitch in recent weeks. The changes were originally legislated by the previous Coalition government in 2019 with support of the then Labor opposition. During the 2022 election campaign and since coming into government, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had reassured voters on multiple occasions that the stage 3 tax cuts would remain. However, with the recent inflationary stressors, the government has been under increasing pressure to scrap the already legislated tax cuts in favour of cost-of-living relief for low to middle income earners, which would require the introduction of amending legislation.

As a refresher, the original stage 3 tax cuts are due to come in place from 1 July 2024, and would benefit individuals that earn above $45,000 of taxable income.

From 1 July 2024 under the already legislated stage 3 tax measures, those earning taxable income between $45,000 and $200,000 will be taxed at $5,092 plus 30% of excess over $45,000. In addition, individuals who earn $200,001 and more will taxed at $51,592 plus 45% of excess over $200,000.

According to the latest ABS data, the median earnings of full-time Australian workers are around $1,600 per week, equating to $83,200 per year. Under the current rates a worker on this median wage would be paying $17,507 in tax, and under the already legislated stage 3 rates for the 2024–2025 income year the same worker would be paying $16,552 (a tax saving of $955).

Of course, as critics of the legislated tax cuts have pointed out, those who earn more will be saving more. For example, the same ABS data indicates that individuals earning $2,820 per week are in the 90th percentile of workers in Australia. This figure equates to annual earnings of $146,640. Under the current tax rates a worker on this wage would be paying around $39,323 in tax, and under the already legislated stage 3 tax rates the same worker would only be paying $35,584 (a tax saving of around $3,739).

This effect becomes even more pronounced at the edge of the stage 3 threshold of $200,000. As currently legislated these individuals would experience a tax saving of a whopping $9,075 ($60,667 in tax under the current rates versus $51,592 in 2024–2025 under the stage 3 tax cuts).

New proposals

Under the government’s most recent proposed changes, those earning between $18,201 and $45,000 would see their tax rate reduced from 19% to 16%. In addition, those who earn between $45,001 and $135,000 would be taxed at the new marginal tax rate of 30%, and the existing 37% marginal rate would be retained but would apply to individuals earning between $135,001 and $190,000. The top marginal rate of 45% would remain for those who earn $190,001 and above.

An average worker earning $83,200 per year will be better off under the government’s proposed changes, paying around $15,748 in tax (versus $16,552 under stage 3 and $17,507 under the current rates), and those in the 90th percentile of earners would be slightly worse off under the proposed changes ($35,594 in tax) compared to stage 3 ($35,584 in tax), but would still be better off than under the current system ($39,323 in tax).

The government will now be working to get the proposed changes passed before 1 July 2024 (when the original stage 3 changes were due to apply).

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Simplifying individual tax residency: government consultation

23rd Sep, 2023

Movement may be afoot on the complex issue of individual tax residency in Australia. In 2019, the Board of Taxation released a report which contained a proposed model for modernising individual residency. The new framework was designed to simplify the tax system and reduce compliance costs for individuals and employers.

The model proposed uses a two-step approach of primary tests and secondary tests. Apart from the government official test, which would replace the Commonwealth superannuation test, the main primary “bright line” test will be the 183-day test, in which a person who is physically present in Australia for 183 days or more in any income year would be considered an Australian tax resident.

One of the secondary tests proposed would require an individual to be physically present in Australia for a minimum of 45 days in an income year before commencing residency, or a maximum of 45 days in an income year before ceasing residency. However, due to various global factors (eg the COVID-19 pandemic), the government is seeking views on whether this 45-day threshold is still appropriate and whether there are any circumstances where days spent in Australia should be disregarded for this threshold.

In addition to the 45-day threshold, the proposed secondary test includes the factor test, which focuses on four specific types of connection an individual may have to Australia. Any individual whose circumstances meet any of the four factors will be deemed to have a stronger connection to Australian than someone who does not.

The Federal Government is now soliciting public feedback on the proposed model before making a decision about whether to proceed with the changes.

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Tax-records education direction measure now in place

11th Apr, 2023

Late in 2022, amendments to the tax law passed Parliament that, among other things, included a measure to allow the ATO to issue a “tax-records education direction” where the Commissioner of Taxation reasonably believes that an entity has failed to comply with one or more specified record-keeping obligations. As an alternative to imposing a financial penalty, such an education direction will require the entity to complete an approved record-keeping course. Successful completion of the course will mean the relevant entity will no longer be liable for a penalty.

According to the ATO, the purpose of the tax-records education direction is to help educate businesses about their tax-related record-keeping obligations. This type of direction will only be issued to entities that are carrying on a business, and will be best suited to small business entities. A direction will most likely be issued where the ATO believes an entity has made a reasonable and genuine attempt to comply with, or had mistakenly believed they were complying with, their tax record-keeping obligations.

Entities that have been or are disengaged from the tax system or deliberately avoiding obligations to keep records will not be eligible for this alternative to penalties. Factors that point to disengagement or deliberate avoidance include poor compliance history, poor engagement with the ATO regarding information requests, deliberate loss or destruction of documents, or fabrication of documents.

To comply with the education direction, a relevant individual to the entity (a director, public officer, partner, etc), must be able to show evidence that they have completed the ATO-approved online record-keeping course by the end of the specified period. Successful completion of the course by the due date means the entity will no longer be liable to a penalty. If the course is not completed by the due date, the entity will be liable to a penalty of up to 20 penalty units (currently $5,500).

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Working from home expenses: new fixed rate

11th Mar, 2023

A new revised fixed-rate method for calculating working from home expenses will soon apply.

From 1 July 2022, employees who work from home can no longer use the 80 cents per hour “shortcut” method for claiming their related expenses. The revised fixed-rate method allows claiming 67 cents per hour, to cover energy expenses; internet, mobile and home phone usage, and stationery and computer consumables costs.

If you don’t wish to use the revised fixed-rate method for calculating your working from home claims, you can still use the actual costs method instead – this involves calculating and documenting in detail the actual expenses you incur.

To use the new revised fixed-rate method and claim a tax deduction of 67 cents for each hour of working from home, you must work from home while carrying out your employment duties or carrying on a business. Minimal tasks such as occasionally checking emails or taking phone calls while at home will not qualify as working from home.

Doing this work must involve incurring additional running expenses that your employer does not reimburse you for. And you must keep relevant records in respect of the whole time spent working from home and for the additional running expenses incurred – an estimate for the entire income year or an estimate based on the number of hours worked from home during a particular period and applied to the rest of the income year will not be accepted.

While the new revised fixed rate of 67c per hour is lower than the previously available shortcut method, the new rate does not include the work-related decline in value of any depreciating assets used during the income year or any other running expenses not specifically covered.

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Non-deductible threshold removed for self-education expenses

17th Feb, 2023

Self- education expenses are generally tax-deductible for individuals if there’s a sufficient connection with your income-producing activities.However, until new legislation was recently passed, the amount you could deduct was limited by s 82A of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 so that only the amount spent over a $250 threshold was deductible.

This threshold was an artefact from when the self education deduction measure was first introduced more than 40 years ago, alongside a long-repealed concessional tax rebate of $250. The original intention of the deduction limit was to ensure that taxpayers didn’t receive both the tax rebate and a tax deduction for the same set of expenses.

With the non-deductible threshold removed, you will only need to ensure the following applies when you claim a self education deduction:

  • you incurred the expense in gaining or producing your assessable income;
  • the expense isn’t private, domestic or capital in nature; and
  • the deduction isn’t prevented by another provision of the tax law (eg such as some childcare and travel expenses that would previously have been useable to reduce the $250 threshold).

The change applies for tax assessments for the 2022– 2023 income year and onwards.

TIP: This change doesn’t affect the types of self education expenses that are deductible. The costs of textbooks, stationery and professional journals will still be deductible, while certain student contributions and payments to reduce HELP, financial supplement and other higher education debts stay non-deductible, as do expenses you incur before commencing an occupation or to help you obtain a new occupation.

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ABN registration: draft legislation to enforce lodgement and notification compliance

19th Dec, 2022

Treasury has released draft legislation which proposes two new grounds under which the Registrar of the Australian Business Register may cancel an Australian Business Number (ABN).

The government had earlier announced its intention to “strengthen” the ABN system by imposing new compliance obligations for ABN holders to retain their ABN. Currently, ABN holders are able to retain their ABN regardless of whether they are meeting their income tax return lodgment obligations or the obligation to regularly update their ABN details.

It’s worth noting that there are over nine million active ABN holders on the Australian Business Register.

Outstanding income tax returns

The proposed changes would allow the Registrar of the Australian Business Register to cancel a person’s ABN if they haven’t lodged their required income tax returns for two or more income years where the period for lodgement has ended. These wouldn’t need to be consecutive income years.

This ground for cancellation would apply for failures to lodge tax returns beginning with income years commencing on 1 July 2022, so the earliest the Registrar could cancel an ABN would be in the second half of 2024, if the ABN-holder failed to lodge tax returns for the income years beginning on 1 July 2022 and 1 July 2023.

Failing to confirm accuracy

The proposed changes would also allow the Registrar to cancel an ABN if the holder hadn’t given a notification within the past 12 months that they still require the ABN and that the information on the Register is current and correct.

This power would be available to the Registrar after 1 July 2024. In effect, this would require ABN holders to check their ABN details and notify the Registrar at least once in the period between the commencement of these provisions and 1 July 2024, and then at least once annually.

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