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Avoiding disqualification from SG amnesty

The superannuation guarantee (‘SG’) amnesty ended on 7 September 2020.  Employers who disclosed unpaid SG amounts and qualified for the amnesty are reminded that they must either pay in full any outstanding amounts they owe, or set up a payment plan and meet each ongoing instalment amount so as  to avoid being disqualified and losing the benefits of the amnesty.

The ATO will be sending employers reminders to pay disclosed amounts, if they have not previously engaged with the ATO.  Employers will have 21 days to avoid being disqualified from the amnesty.

Registered agents can assist their employer clients who qualified for the SG amnesty avoid disqualification.  In particular, if a client needs to set up a payment plan, agents can do this (online) on their behalf, if the employer:

  •    has an existing debit amount under $100,000 (total balance or overdue amounts);
  •    does not already have a payment plan for that debit amount; and
  •    has not defaulted on a payment plan for the relevant account more than twice in the past two years.

 

The ATO has advised that employers who are disqualified from the amnesty will:

  •    be notified in writing of the quarter they are disqualified for;
  •    be charged an administration component of $20 per employee for each disqualified quarter;
  •    have their circumstances considered when deciding a Part 7 penalty remission (this is an additional penalty of up to 200% of the unpaid SG amount that may be imposed under the SG laws); and
  •    be issued with a notice of amended assessment.

 

Employers who continue to qualify for the SG amnesty are reminded that they can only claim a tax deduction for amounts paid on or before 7 September 2020 (i.e., the amnesty end date).

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Paper PAYG and GST quarterly instalment notices

The ATO has previously advised that it will no longer issue paper activity statements after electronic lodgment.  Instead, electronic activity statements will be available for access online, three to four days after the activity statement is generated.

As part of its digital improvement program, the ATO stopped issuing paper quarterly PAYG and GST instalment notices (forms R, S & T), where taxpayers had a digital preference on ATO systems.  The September 2020 notice was the last one issued to these taxpayers.

However, the ATO has received feedback from tax professionals that issues have arisen for some of their clients as a result of this change.  For example, some taxpayers who are self-lodgers rely on the receipt of the paper statements as a reminder that their instalments are due.

As an interim solution, the ATO said it will issue paper PAYG and GST quarterly instalment notices starting with the March 2021 quarterly notices.

For taxpayers impacted by this change, the ATO will work with their registered agents to take their circumstances into account.  The ATO has a range of practical support options available, including lodgment deferrals and payment plans that agents can access online, on behalf of their clients.

For self-lodgers, the ATO has issued an email notification reminding them that their December 2020 PAYG and GST instalment notices are due for payment soon (by 2 March 2021).

The ATO said it will continue to work with the tax profession to develop a digital solution for the PAYG and GST instalment notices that is workable for registered agents and their clients.

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Changes to STP reporting concessions from 1 July 2021

Small employers (19 or fewer employees) are currently exempt from reporting ‘closely held’ payees through Single Touch Payroll (‘STP’).  Also, a quarterly STP reporting option applies to micro employers (four or fewer employees).  These concessions will end on 30 June 2021.

The STP reporting changes that apply for these employers from 1 July 2021 are outlined below.

Closely held payees (small employers)

From 1 July 2021, small employers must report payments made to closely held payees through STP using any of the options below.  Other employees must continue to be reported by each pay day.

A ‘closely held payee’ is an individual who is directly related to the entity from which they receive payments.  For example, this could include family members of a family business, directors or shareholders of a company and beneficiaries of a trust.

Payments to such payees can be reported via STP (from 1 July 2021) using any of the following options:

  1. Report actual payments on or before the date of payment.
  2. Report actual payments quarterly on or before the due date for the employer’s quarterly activity statements.
  3. Report a reasonable estimate quarterly on or before the due date for the employer’s quarterly activity statements. Note that consequences may apply for employers that under-estimate amounts reported for closely held payees.

Small employers with only closely held payees have up until the due date of the payee’s tax return to make a finalisation declaration.  Employers will need to speak with these payees about when their individual income tax return is due.

Micro employers

From 1 July 2021, the quarterly reporting concession will only be considered for eligible micro employers experiencing ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Common examples of when the ATO would generally consider it to be fair and reasonable to grant a deferral due to exceptional or unforeseen circumstances include natural disasters, other disasters or events, serious illness or death.

Additionally, ‘exceptional circumstances’ for access to the STP quarterly reporting concession from 1 July 2021 may include where a micro employer has:

  •    seasonal or intermittent workers; or
  •    no or unreliable internet connection.

The ATO says it will consider any other unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

It should be noted that registered agents must apply for this concession and lodge STP reports, quarterly, on behalf of their eligible micro employer clients.

The STP reports are due the same day as the employer’s quarterly activity statements.

If an employer prefers to report monthly, the STP reports must be lodged on or before the 21st day of the following month.

Finalisation declarations will need to be submitted by 14 July each year.

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How to avoid getting dodgy advice

The ATO is warning taxpayers who may be thinking about pausing, changing or closing their business, due to the current economic conditions, to be wary of untrustworthy advisers who may recommend inappropriate or illegal behaviour.

This could include illegal phoenix activity, where businesses intentionally remove their assets prior to winding up so that they can be used in a copy of the original business.

Red flags include:

  • people the taxpayer doesn’t know cold calling with advice;
  • unsolicited letters, emails or phone calls after the taxpayer has been through court action with a creditor;
  • advice to transfer assets to a third party without payment;
  • refusal to provide advice in writing;
  • advice suggesting they have a sympathetic liquidator who will protect the taxpayer’s personal interests and assets;
  • advice to withhold certain records from the bankruptcy trustee or liquidator, or provide incorrect information to authorities; and
  • advice to deal with the liquidator or trustee on the taxpayer’s behalf.

The ATO instead recommends anyone thinking of pausing, changing or closing their business to contact a qualified professional, such as an accountant, lawyer, or registered liquidator.

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ATO Visa Data Matching Program

The ATO will acquire visa data from the Department of Home Affairs for 2020/21 through to 2022/23, relating to approximately 10 million individuals for each financial year.

The data will be used to identify non-compliance with obligations under taxation and superannuation laws, including registration, lodgment, reporting and payment responsibilities.

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STP data-sharing with Services Australia

Single Touch Payroll (‘STP’) allows the ATO to share data in real-time with other government agencies, to “help them deliver government services to the Australian community”.

As part of the ATO’s data-matching program, it has a STP data-sharing arrangement with Services Australia to help them administer Australia’s welfare system.

This means that people who are on an income support payment from Services Australia and need to report their employment income fortnightly to Centrelink will now see their employer details are pre-filled.

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Proposed FBT exemption — retraining and reskilling

The government has announced it will introduce an exemption from FBT for retraining and reskilling benefits provided by employers to redundant, or soon to be redundant, employees where the benefits may not be related to their current employment.

It is proposed that this exemption will not apply to:

  • retraining provided under a salary packaging arrangement;
  • training provided through Commonwealth supported places at universities; or
  • repayments towards Commonwealth student loans.

If enacted, this proposed measure is intended to apply from the day it was announced (i.e., 2 October 2020).

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JobMaker Hiring Credit passed

The government has passed legislation to establish the JobMaker Hiring Credit, which is part of the government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The JobMaker Hiring Credit is specifically designed to encourage businesses to take on additional young employees and increase employment.

It does this by providing employers with a fixed amount of $200 per week for an eligible employee aged 16 to 29 years and $100 per week for an eligible employee aged 30 to 35 years, paid quarterly in arrears by the ATO.

To be eligible, the employee must have been receiving JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance (Other) or Parenting Payment for at least one of the previous three months, assessed on the date of employment.  Employees also need to have worked for a minimum of 20 hours per week of paid work to be eligible, averaged over a quarter, and can only be eligible with one employer at a time.

The hiring credit is not available to an employer who does not increase their headcount and payroll.

Employers and employees will be prohibited from entering into contrived schemes in order to gain access to or increase the amount payable.

Existing rights and safeguards for employees under the Fair Work Act will continue to apply, including protection from unfair dismissal and the full range of general protections.

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Improvements to be made to full expensing measure

The government will expand eligibility for the temporary ‘full expensing measure’, which temporarily allows certain businesses to deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets in the year they are first used or installed.

Editor: The government initially announced in the 2020/21 Budget that businesses with a turnover of up to $5 billion would be able to immediately deduct the full cost of eligible depreciable assets as long as they are first used or installed by 30 June 2022.

The government will also allow businesses to opt out of temporary full expensing and the backing business investment incentive on an asset‑by‑asset basis.

This change will provide businesses with more flexibility in respect of these measures, removing a potential disincentive for them to take advantage of these incentives (Editor: For example, where the automatic application of full expensing might cause the entity to make a loss).

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Employees on JobKeeper can satisfy the ‘work test’

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (‘APRA’) has confirmed that, where an employer is receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy for an individual, superannuation funds should consider the individual to be ‘gainfully employed’ for the purpose of the ‘work test’, even if that individual has been fully stood down and is not actually performing work.

As such, superannuation funds can assume that all members in receipt of the JobKeeper subsidy satisfy the ‘work test’ when determining whether they can make voluntary superannuation contributions.