Author: toto

Tax & the family home

Everyone knows you don’t pay tax on your family home when you sell it…right? We take a closer look at the main residence exemption that excludes your home from capital gains tax and the triggers that reduce or exclude that exemption.

Capital gains tax (CGT) applies to gains you have made on the sale of capital assets (assets you make money from). Unless an exemption or reduction applies, or you can offset the tax against a capital loss, any gain you made on an asset is taxed at your marginal tax rate. 

What is the main residence exemption?

Your main residence is the home you live in. In general, CGT applies to the sale of your home unless you have an exemption, partial exemption, or you are able to offset the tax against a capital loss. 

If you are an Australian resident for tax purposes, you can access the full main residence exemption when you sell your home if your home was your main residence for the whole time you owned it, the land your home is on is or is under 2 hectares, and you did not use your home to produce an income – for example running a business from your home or renting it out.

If the home is on more than 2 hectares, if eligible, you can treat the home and up to 2 hectares of the land it is on as one asset and claim the main residence exemption on this asset.

However, if you use your home to produce an income by running a business from home or renting it out, CGT can apply to the portion of the home used to produce income from that time onwards.

What’s a main residence?

For CGT purposes, your home normally qualifies as your main residence from the point you move in and start living there. However, if you move in as soon as practicable after the settlement date of the contract, that home is considered your main residence from the time you acquired it.

If you cannot move in straight away because you are in the process of selling your old home, you can treat both homes as your main residence for up to six months without impacting your eligibility to the main residence exemption. For example, where you have moved into your new home while finalising the sale of your old home. This applies if you were living in your old home for a continuous period of 3 months in the 12 months before you disposed of it, you did not use your old home to produce an income (rented it out or used it as a place of business) in any part of that 12 months when it was not your main residence, and your new property becomes your main residence. 

If the sale takes more than six months and if eligible, the main residence exemption could apply to both homes only for the last six months prior to selling the old home. For any period before this it might be possible to choose which home is treated as your main residence (the other becomes subject to CGT).

If your new home is being rented to someone else when you purchase it and you cannot move in, the home is not your main residence until you move in.

If you cannot move in for some unforeseen reason, for example you end up in hospital or are posted overseas for a few months for work, then you still might be able to access the main residence exemption from the time you acquired the home if you move in as soon as practicable once the issue has been resolved. Inconvenience is not a valid reason and you will need to ensure that you have documentation to support your position.

Proof that your property is first established or continues to be your main residence is subjective and if the issue is ever queried, some of the factors the ATO will look at include:

The length of time you have lived in the dwelling

  • Where your family live
  • Whether you moved your personal belongings into the dwelling
  • The address you have your mail delivered
  • Your address on the Electoral Roll
  • Your connection to services such as telephone, gas and electricity, and
  • Your intention.

Foreign resident or resident?

The main residence rules changed in 2017 to exclude non-residents from accessing the main residence exemption. 

The rules focus on your tax residency status at the time of the CGT event (normally the time the contract of sale is entered into). That is, in most cases if you are a non-resident at the time you enter into the contract of sale, you will be unable to access the main residence exemption. This is the case even if you were a resident for part of the ownership period.

Conversely, if you are a resident at the time of the sale, and you meet the other eligibility criteria, the rules should apply as normal even if you were a non-resident for some of the ownership period. For example, an expat who maintains their main residence in Australia could return to Australia, become a resident for tax purposes again, then sell the property and if eligible, access the main residence exemption.

It’s important to recognise that the residency test is your tax residency not your visa status. Australia’s tax residency rules can be complex. If you are uncertain, please contact us and we will work through the rules with you.

The tax rules also contain integrity provisions that can deny the main residence exemption where someone circumvents the rules by deliberately structuring their affairs to access the exemption – for example, transferring the property to a related party prior to becoming a foreign resident to access the main residence exemption.

Can I treat my home as my main residence even if I don’t live there?

Once you have established your home as your main residence, in certain circumstances, you can treat it as your main residence even if you have stopped living there. The absence rule allows you to treat your home as your main residence for tax purposes:

  • For up to 6 years if it’s used to produce income, for example you rent it out while you are away; or
  • Indefinitely if it is not used to produce income.

By applying the absence rule to your home, this normally prevents you from applying the main residence exemption to any other property you own over the same period. Apart from limited exceptions, the other property is exposed to CGT.

Let’s say you moved overseas in 2019 and rented out your home while you were away. Then, you came back to Australia in 2021 and moved back into your house. Then in early 2022, you decided it is not your forever home and sold it. You elected to apply the absence rule to your home and didn’t treat any other property as your main residence during that same period. In this case, you should be able to access the full main residence exemption assuming you are a resident for tax purposes at the time of sale. 

The 6 year period also resets if you re-establish the property as your main residence and subsequently stop living there but rent it out in between. So, if the time the home was income producing is limited to six years for each absence, it is likely the full main residence exemption will be available if the other eligibility criteria are met.

What happens if I have been running my business from home?

If your home is also set aside as a dedicated place of business (i.e., you do not have another office or workshop), then you might only be able to claim a partial main residence exemption. This is because income producing assets are excluded from the main residence exemption.  

If you are running a business from home, you can usually claim a tax deduction for occupancy expenses such as interest on the mortgage, council rates, and insurance. If you claimed or were eligible to claim these expenses, then you will only be able to access a partial main residence exemption. These rules apply even if you have not claimed these expenses as a deduction; the fact that you are eligible to make a claim is enough to impact your access to the main residence exemption.  

In many cases, if your home would have qualified for a full main residence exemption before it is used as a dedicated place of business, the cost base of your home for CGT purposes should also be reset to its market value at that time.

Also, if only a partial main residence exemption is available, you will need to check whether you can access the small business CGT concessions on any remaining capital gain. As these rules are complex, please contact us and we will work through the rules with you.

However, if you have only been working from home out of convenience and there is another office that you normally work from, then your eligibility to access the main residence exemption should be unaffected. The ATO has confirmed that all that time working from home temporarily during the pandemic should not impact your ability to access the main residence exemption. 

If I rent out a room on AirBnB, can I still claim the exemption?

If your home has been used to produce income while you are living in it, the portion used to produce income will be excluded from the main residence exemption. The rules might apply differently if you move out of the home completely – see Can I treat my home as my main residence even if I don’t live there?

Before you start renting out a portion of your home, it is a good idea to have it valued. If you would have qualified for the main residence exemption just before it was rented out, there are some rules that can apply in most cases and for CGT purposes, you are taken to have re-acquired your home for its market value at that time. So, if your home has increased in value over and above its cost base, this should reduce any gain when you eventually sell.

Can I have a different main residence to my spouse?

Let’s say you and your spouse each own homes that you have separately established as your main residences for the same period. The rules do not allow you to claim the full CGT exemption on both homes. Instead, you can: 

  • Choose one of the dwellings as the main residence for both of you during the period; or 
  • Nominate different dwellings as your main residence for the period. 

If you and your spouse nominate different dwellings, the exemption is split between you: 

  • If you own 50% or less of the residence chosen as your main residence, the dwelling is taken to be your main residence for that period and you will qualify for the main residence exemption for your ownership interest; 
  • If you own greater than 50% of the residence chosen as your main residence, the dwelling is taken to be your main residence for half of the period that you and your spouse had different homes.

The same rule applies to the spouse.

The rule applies to each home that the spouses own regardless of how the homes are held legally, i.e., sole ownership, tenants in common or joint tenants.  

Divorce and the main residence rules

The last two years have seen the highest divorce rate in Australia for a decade. When a property settlement occurs between spouses and if the conditions are met, the marriage breakdown rollover rules apply to ignore any CGT gain on the property settlement.

Assuming the home is transferred to one of the spouses (and not to or from a trust or company), both individuals used the home solely as their main residence over their ownership period, and the other eligibility conditions are met, then a full main residence exemption should be available when the property is eventually sold. 

If the home qualified for the main residence exemption for only part of the ownership period for either individual, then a partial exemption might be available. That is, the spouse receiving the property may need to pay CGT on the gain on their share of the property received as part of the property settlement when they eventually sell the property. 

I have inherited a property, if I sell it, do I have to pay CGT? 

Special rules exist that enable some beneficiaries or estates to access a full or partial main residence exemption on the inherited property. Assuming the house was the main residence of the deceased just before they died, they did not then use the home to produce an income, and the other eligibility criteria are met, a full exemption might be available to the executor or beneficiary if either (or both) of the following conditions are met: 

  • The dwelling is disposed of within two years of the deceased’s death; or 
  • The dwelling was the main residence of one or more of the following people from the date of death until the dwelling has been disposed of: 
  • The spouse of the deceased (unless they were separated); 
  • An individual who had a right to occupy the dwelling under the deceased’s will; or 
  • The beneficiary who is disposing of the dwelling.  

An extension to the two year period can apply in limited certain circumstances, for example when the will is contested or complex.

If the deceased did not actually live in the property prior to their death and other eligibility criteria are satisfied, it still might be possible to apply the full exemption where the home was treated as their main residence under the absence rule.

If the full exemption is not available, a partial exemption might apply.

If you have any questions about how the main residence rules might apply to you, please drop us a line and we will be happy to work though it with you.

 

What changed on 1 July?

A reminder of what changed on 1 July 2022

Business

  • Superannuation guarantee increased to 10.5%
  • $450 super guarantee threshold removed for employees aged 18 and over 
  • Small business GST and PAYG tax instalments lowered (the total tax liability remains the same, just the amount the business needs to pay through the year is lowered)
  • ATO guidance on how profits of professional firms are structured comes into effect introducing new risk criteria
  • New guidance on unpaid trust distributions to corporate beneficiaries comes into effect that may treat some unpaid distributions as loans and trigger tax consequences

Individuals

  • Superannuation guarantee increased to 10.5%
  • Work-test repealed for those under 75 to make or receive non-concessional or salary sacrifice super contributions (the work test still applies to personal deductible contributions)
  • Age for downsizer super contributions reduced to 60 years and older
  • Value of voluntary super contributions that can be withdrawn under the First Home Saver Scheme increased to a total of $50,000 
  • New ATO guidelines on trust distributions come into effect primarily impacting distributions to adult children
  • Home loan guarantee scheme extended to 35,000 per year for first home buyers and 5,000 per year for single parents
  • Australia’s minimum wage increased

Overcome your customers fear of spending

One of the biggest complaints from salespeople in a tight economy is the time it takes to achieve a sale.  So, what can you do to speed up the sales process?

Sell the solution not the product

Branding is wonderful but unless your brand is as mighty as Coca Cola, it’s unlikely people will purchase what you have based on brand alone. It’s more important than ever to have clarity about why your product or service is valuable to your client and why they should be buying it from you.   

Back in 2000, Berlei bras demonstrated the art of solution selling with their sports bra campaign, “only the ball should bounce.” For anyone that has seen a sports bras you know that aesthetically, they are the ugly duckling of the lingerie world; highly functional but very unattractive. Berlei used science to demonstrate how much damage exercising in anything but a sports bra could do (using television advertising, print, point of sale advertising, media, etc).  The point is to understand what the most meaningful message is for your customer and that is unlikely to be a product feature list.

Sell the savings

Does your product offer your customer any form of efficiency gain or benefit beyond value over time? Can you justify it with real examples such as testimonials and worked examples? If it does, you need to ensure that you articulate this message. If there is a benefit, ensure you highlight it and emphasise the result. Try and stay away from long range forecasts. If it is going to take a few years to see the real value then this is not a compelling selling point in the current market.  

You are only as strong as the weakest link in your sales process 

If your first point of contact is the weakest link in your sales chain, then you need to fix it. Help your team identify and capitalise on opportunities by giving them the training and structure they need. 

Value added discounts

Discounting is a common strategy to increase sales but it comes at the cost of your margin. If you are going to discount, do it strategically. For example, when David Jones wanted to build the number of customers holding a David Jones AMEX, they offered a limited time 30% discount store wide to everyone who either held or applied for the card on the spot. And, staff were trained to encourage the adoption of the AMEX at the checkout. Yes, it was a big discount, but it created an event for existing store card holders and ramped up acquisition to the store card program. The added benefit is that loyalty programs work; the probability of selling to an existing customer is around 14 times higher than a new customer.  

In tough economic times, it’s common for the volume of products purchased by customers to go down. You can overcome some of this reticence by packaging items together and encouraging sales volume by offering a discount on the second item or on bundles. If you are going to package, ensure you are not packaging low margin products and then discounting them. Packaging works best when you package products with higher profit margins or where you boost the sales volume of slow moving stock by combining it with faster selling stock.

 

 

 

Tax Time Targets

The ATO has flagged four priority areas this tax season where people are making mistakes.

With tax season almost upon us the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has revealed its four areas of focus this tax season.

  1. Record-keeping
  2. Work-related expenses
  3. Rental property income and deductions, and
  4. Capital gains from crypto assets, property, and shares.

In general, there are three ‘golden rules’ when claiming tax deductions:

  • You must have spent the money and not been reimbursed.
  • If the expense is for a mix of work related (income producing) and private use, you can only claim the portion that relates to how you earn your income.
  • You need to have a record to prove it.

1.0 Record keeping

101 of working with the ATO is that you can’t claim it if you can’t prove it. If you are audited, the ATO will disallow deductions for unsubstantiated or unreasonable expenses. Even if the expense is below the substantiation threshold of $300 ($150 for laundry), the ATO might ask how you came up with that number. For example, if you claim $300 in work related expenses (that is, make a claim right up to the substantiation threshold), how did you come up with that number and not something else?

In addition to the obvious records of salary, wages, allowances, government payments or pensions and annuities, you need to keep records of:

  • Interest or managed funds.

Records of expenses for any deductions claimed including a record of how that expense relates to the way you earn your income. That is, the expense must be related to how you earn your income. For example, if you claim the cost of RAT tests, you need to be able to prove that the RAT test was necessary to enable you to work. If you were working from home and not required to leave home, it will be harder to claim the cost of the test.

  • Assets such as shares or units in a trust, rental properties or holiday homes, if you purchased a home or inherited a property, or disposed of an asset (including cryptocurrency).

You need to keep your records for five years. These can be digital copies of the records as long as they are clear and legible copies of the original. If your records are digital, keep a backup.

Records can be tax invoices, receipts, diary entries or something else that proves you incurred the expense and how it related to how you earn your income.

2.0 Work-related expenses

To claim a deduction, you need to have incurred the expense yourself and not been reimbursed by your employer or business, and the expense needs to be directly related to your work.

What expenses are related to work?

You can claim a deduction for all losses and outgoings “to the extent to which they are incurred in gaining or producing assessable income except where the outgoings are of a capital, private or domestic nature, or relate to the earning of exempt income.” That is, there must be a nexus between the expenses you are claiming and how you earn your income.

It all sounds simple enough until you start applying this rule. Take the example of an actor. To land the acting job she needs to attend auditions. She wants to claim the cost of having her hair and make-up done for the audition. But, because she is not generating income at the stage of the audition, she cannot claim her expenses. The expense must be related to how you are currently earning your income, not future potential income. The same issue applies to upskilling. If you attend investment seminars with the intention of building your investment portfolio the seminar is not deductible as a self-education expense unless it relates to managing your existing investment portfolio – not a future one. Or, a nurse’s aide who attendees university to qualify as a nurse. The university degree and the expenses associated with this are not deductible as the nursing degree is not required to fulfil the role of a nurse’s aide.

The second area of confusion is over what can be claimed for work. If the item is “conventional” it’s unlikely to be deductible. For example, you can’t claim conventional clothing (including footwear) as a work-related expense, even if your employer requires you to wear it and you only wear the items of clothing at work. To be deductible clothing must be protective, occupation specific such as a chef’s chequered pants, a compulsory uniform, or a registered non-compulsory uniform.

Work related or private?

Another area of confusion is where expenses are incurred for work purposes but used privately. Internet access or mobile phone services are typical. A lot of people take the view that the expense had to be incurred for work so what does it matter if it’s used for private purposes? But, if you use the service on more than an ad-hoc basis for any purpose other than work, then the expense needs to be apportioned and only the work-related percentage claimed as a deduction. And yes, the ATO does check usage in an audit.

Claims for COVID-19 tests will be a test of this rule. COVID-19 tests are deductible from 1 July 2021 if the purpose was to determine whether you may attend or remain at work. The tax deduction does not apply if you worked from home and didn’t intend to attend your workplace, or the test was used for private purposes (for example, to tests the kids before school).

Claiming work from home expenses

Last financial year, one in three Australians claimed working from home expenses. Now we’re out of the pandemic, the ATO will be focussing specifically on what is being claimed. If you claimed work from home expenses last year and returned to the office this year, then there should be a reduction in your work from home claim. The ATO will be looking for discrepancies.

If you are claiming your expenses, there are three methods you can use:

  • The ATO’s simplified 80 cents per hour short-cut method – you can claim 80 cents for every hour you worked from home from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2022. You will need to have evidence of hours worked like a timesheet or diary. The rate covers all of your expenses and you cannot claim individual items separately, such as office furniture or a computer.
  • Fixed rate 52 cents per hour method – applies if you have set up a home office but are not running a business from home. You can claim 52 cents for every hour and this covers the running expenses of your home. You can claim your phone, internet, or the decline in value of equipment separately.
  • Actual expenses method – you can claim the actual expenses you incur (and reduce the claim by any personal use and use by other family members). You will need to ensure you have kept records such as receipts to use this method.

It’s this last method, the actual method, the ATO is scrutinising because people using this method tend to lodge much higher claims in their tax return. Ineligible expenses include:

  • Personal expenses such as coffee, tea and toilet paper
  • Expenses related to a child’s education, such as online learning courses or laptops
  • Claiming large expenses up-front (instead of claiming depreciation for assets), and
  • Occupancy expenses such as rent, mortgage interest, property insurance, and land taxes and rates, that cannot generally be claimed by employees working from home (especially by those who are working from home solely due to a lockdown).

3.0 Rental property income and deductions

For landlords, the focus is on ensuring that all income received, whether long-term, short-term, rental bonds, back payments, or insurance pay-outs, are recognised in your tax return.

If your rental property is outside of Australia, and you are an Australian resident for tax purposes, you must recognise the rental income you received in your tax return (excluding any tax you have paid overseas), unless you are classified as a temporary resident for tax purposes. You can claim expenses related to the property, although there are some special rules that need to be considered when it comes to interest deductions. For example, if you have borrowed money from an overseas lender you might be subject to withholding tax obligations.

Co-owned properties

For tax purposes, rental income and expenses need to be recognised in line with the legal ownership of the property, except in very limited circumstances where it can be shown that the equitable interest in the property is different from the legal title. The ATO will assume that where the taxpayers are related, the equitable right is the same as the legal title (unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise such as a deed of trust etc.,).

This means that if you hold a 25% legal interest in a property then you should recognise 25% of the rental income and rental expenses in your tax returns even if you pay most or all of the rental property expenses (the ATO would treat this as a private arrangement between the owners).

The main exception is where the parties have separately borrowed money to acquire their interest in the property, then they would claim their own interest deductions.

4.0 Capital gains from crypto, property or other assets

If you dispose of an asset – property, shares, crypto or NFTs, collectables (costing $500 or more) – you will need to calculate the capital gain or loss and record this in your tax return. Capital gains tax (CGT) does not apply to personal use assets such as a boat if you bought it for less than $10,000.

Crypto and capital gains tax

A question that often comes up is when do I pay tax on cryptocurrency?

If you acquire the cryptocurrency to make a private purchase and you don’t hold onto it, the crypto might qualify as a personal use asset. But in most cases, that is not the case and people acquire crypto as an investment, even if they do sometimes use it to buy things.

Generally, a CGT event occurs when disposing of cryptocurrency. This can include selling cryptocurrency for a fiat currency (e.g., $AUD), exchanging one cryptocurrency for another, gifting it, trading it, or using it to pay for goods or services.

Each cryptocurrency is a separate asset for CGT purposes. When you dispose of one cryptocurrency to acquire another, you are disposing of one CGT asset and acquiring another CGT asset. This triggers a taxing event.

Transferring cryptocurrency from one wallet to another is not a CGT disposal if you maintain ownership of the coin.

Record keeping is extremely important – you need receipts and details of the type of coin, purchase price, date and time of transactions in Australian dollars, records for any exchanges, digital wallet and keys, and what has been paid in commissions or brokerage fees, and records of tax agent, accountant and legal costs. The ATO regularly runs data matching projects, and has access to the data from many crypto platforms and banks.

If you make a loss on cryptocurrency, you can generally only claim the loss as a deduction if you are in the business of trading.

Gifting an asset might still incur tax

Donating or gifting an asset does not avoid capital gains tax. If you receive nothing or less than the market value of the asset, the market value substitution rules might come into play. The market value substitution rule can treat you as having received the market value of the asset you donated or gifted for the purpose of your CGT calculations.

For example, if Mum & Dad buy a block of land then eventually gift the block of land to their daughter, the ATO will look at the value of the land at the point they gifted it. If the market value of the land is higher than the amount that Mum & Dad paid for it, then this would normally trigger a capital gains tax liability. It does not matter that Mum & Dad did not receive any money for the land.

Donations of cryptocurrency might also trigger capital gains tax. If you donate cryptocurrency to a charity, you are likely to be assessed on the market value of the crypto at the point you donated it. You can only claim a tax deduction for the donation if the charity is a deductible gift recipient and the charity is set up to accept cryptocurrency.

 

What to expect from the new Government

Anthony Albanese has been sworn in as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister and a Government formed. We look at what we know so far about the policies of the new Government in an environment with plenty of problems and no easy fixes.

The economy

The Government has stated that its economic priority is, “creating jobs, boosting participation, improving and increasing productivity, generating new business investment, and increasing wages and household incomes.”

A second Federal Budget will be released in October this year to set the fiscal policy direction of the Government. The Albanese Government has stated that its focus is on growing the economy as opposed to increasing taxes, but it is a delicate balance to keep growth ahead of inflation. Treasurer Jim Chalmers has said that the Government will look to “redirect spending from unproductive purposes to more productive purposes.”

In a recent speech, Treasury Secretary Dr Steven Kennedy, summed it up when he said that the most significant economic development of late has been the, “…higher-than-expected surge in inflation. Headline inflation reached 5.1% in the March quarter of 2022, the highest rate of inflation in more than 2 decades… Price increases are reflecting a range of shocks, some temporary and some more persistent.” These shocks include:

  • Increased global demand for goods straining supply chains, increasing shipping costs, and clogging ports;
  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine which sharply increased the price of oil, energy and food. Russia accounts for 18% of global gas and 12% of global oil supply. Together Russia and Ukraine account for around one quarter of global trade in wheat; and
  • COVID-19 lockdowns in China impacting supply chains. China maintains a zero-COVID policy.

In Australia, energy prices have contributed strongly to inflation (the temporary reduction in fuel excise ends on 28 September 2022).

Personal income tax

The 2019-20 Budget announced a series of personal income tax reforms. Stage 3 of those reforms is legislated to commence on 1 July 2024. Stage 3 radically simplifies the tax brackets by collapsing the 32.5% and 37% rates into a single 30% rate for those earning between $45,001 and $200,000. Mr Albanese told Sky News, “People are entitled to have that certainty of the tax cuts that have been legislated… We won’t be changing them. What we want going forward is that certainty.”

Where will the money come from?

It is unclear at this stage how the Government intends to tackle the $1.2 trillion deficit. The general commentary from Finance Minister Katy Gallagher is that Treasury and Finance have been tasked with working through the Budget line by line to, “…see where there are areas where we can make sensible savings and return that money back to the Budget.”

Multinationals

Multinationals paying their fair share of tax was a go-to target during the election campaign. The plan for multinationals implements elements of the OECD’s two-pillar framework to reform international taxation rules and ensure Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are subject to a minimum 15% tax rate from 2023. Australia and 129 other countries and jurisdictions, representing more than 90% of global GDP, are signatories to the framework.

The Government’s multinational policy supports the OECD framework by:

  • Limiting debt-related deductions by multinationals at 30% of profits, consistent with the OECD’s recommended approach, while maintaining the arm’s length test and the worldwide gearing ratio.
  • Limiting the ability for multinationals to abuse Australia’s tax treaties when holding intellectual property in tax havens from 1 July 2023. A tax deduction would be denied for payments for the use of intellectual property when they are paid to a jurisdiction where they don’t pay sufficient tax.
  • Introducing transparency measures including reporting requirements on tax information, beneficial ownership, tax haven exposure and in relation to government tenders.

The reforms will follow consultation and are not anticipated to take effect until 2023.

No change to SG rate and rate increase

No change to the legislated superannuation guarantee rate increase. The SG rate will increase to 10.5% on 1 July 2022 and steadily increase by 0.5% each year until it reaches 12% on 1 July 2025.

 

ATO refocus on debt collection

The ATO has not pursued many business tax debts during the pandemic and allowed tax refunds to flow through even if the business had a tax debt.  That position has now changed and the ATO has resumed debt collection and offsetting tax debts against refunds. If you have a tax debt that has been on-hold, expect the ATO to offset any refunds against this debt, and take steps to actively pursue the payment of the debt.  Small business account for around two thirds of the total debt owed to the ATO. If you have a tax debt, it is important that you engage with the ATO to work out how this debt will be paid.

 

 

The 120% deduction for skills training and technology costs

It’s a great headline isn’t it? Spend $100 and get a $120 tax deduction. Days after the Federal Budget announcement that businesses will be able to claim a 120% deduction for expenditure on training and technology costs, we started receiving marketing emails encouraging us to spend now to access the deduction.

But, there are a few problems. Firstly, the announcement is just that, it is not yet law. And, given the Government is in caretaker mode for the Federal election, we do not know the position of the incoming Government on this measure. And, even if the incoming Government is supportive, we are yet to see draft legislation or detail to determine the practical application of the measure.

What was announced?

The 2022-23 Federal Budget announced two ‘Investment Boosts’ available to small businesses with an aggregated annual turnover of less than $50 million.

The Skills and Training Boost is intended to apply to expenditure from Budget night, 29 March 2022 until 30 June 2024. The business, however, will not be able to claim the deduction until the 2023 tax return. That is, for expenditure between 29 March 2022 and 30 June 2022, the boost, the additional 20%, will not be claimable until the 2022-23 tax return, assuming the announced start dates are maintained if and when the legislation passes Parliament.

The Technology Investment Boost is intended to apply to expenditure from Budget night, 29 March 2022 until 30 June 2023. As with the Skills and Training Boost, the additional 20% deduction for eligible expenditure incurred by 30 June 2022 will be claimed in the 2023 tax return.

The boost for eligible expenditure incurred on or after 1 July 2022 will be included in the income year in which the expenditure is incurred.

Technology Investment Boost

A 120% tax deduction for expenditure incurred by small businesses on business expenses and depreciating assets that support their digital adoption, such as portable payment devices, cyber security systems, or subscriptions to cloud-based services, capped at $100,000 per annum.

We have received a lot of questions about the specific expenditure the boost might apply to, for example does it cover website development or SEO services? But until we see the legislation, nothing is certain.

Skills and Training Boost

A 120% tax deduction for expenditure incurred by small businesses on external training courses provided to employees. External training courses will need to be provided to employees in Australia or online, and delivered by entities registered in Australia.

Some exclusions will apply, such as for in-house or on-the-job training and expenditure on external training courses for persons other than employees.

We are waiting on further details of this initiative to be released to confirm whether there will need to be a nexus between the training program and the current employment activities of the employees undertaking the course. So once again, until we have something more than the announcement, we cannot confirm how the measure will apply in practice or how broad (or otherwise) the definition of skills training is.

What happens if I have already spent money on training and technology in anticipation of the bolstered deduction?

If the measure becomes law, and the start date of the measure remains the same, we expect that any qualifying expenditure incurred in the 2021-22 financial year will be claimed in your tax return. But, the ‘boost’, the extra 20% will not be claimable until the 2022-23 financial year.

If the measure does not come to fruition, you should be able to claim a deduction under normal rules for the actual business expense.

 

 

Fuel tax credit changes

The Government temporarily halved the excise and excise equivalent customs duty rates for petrol, diesel and all other petroleum-based products (except aviation fuels) for 6 months from 30 March 2022 until 28 September 2022. This has caused a reduction in fuel tax credit rates.

During this 6 month period, businesses using fuel in heavy vehicles for travelling on public roads won’t be able to claim fuel tax credits for fuel used for this purpose. This is because the road user charge exceeds the excise duty payable, and this reduces the fuel tax credit rate to nil.

You can find the ATO’s updated fuel tax credit rates that apply for the period from 30 March 2022 to 30 June 2022 here. The ATO’s fuel tax credit calculator has been updated to apply the current rates.

 

 

Can I claim a tax deduction for my gym membership?

There are lots of reasons to keep fit but very few of them have to do with how we earn our income. As a result, a tax deduction for a gym membership isn’t available to most people. And yes, the Tax Office has heard all the arguments before about how keeping fit reduces sickness and therefore is important to earning an income, and ‘…the way I look is important to my job’.

In general, a tax deduction for fitness expenses is only available if your job requires you to have an extremely high level of fitness. The nexus between how you earn your income and the deduction is about the physical demands and requirements of your specific role. Firefighters are a case in point. A person with what the ATO describes as a “general duties firefighter” role cannot claim a deduction for the money they have spent keeping fit, but a firefighter in a specialist search and rescue operations team for example, trained in a range of specialist skills including structural collapses and tunnel emergencies, and who is tested on fitness and ongoing strenuous physical activity as an essential part of their job, would be able to claim fitness expenses. Similarly, a professional ballet dancer is likely to be able to claim their fitness expenses. A model however, might not be able to claim their expenses as, while they need to look a particular way, their modelling role does not require physical training and exertion (clearly the ATO has not seen some the poses that models have to hold!). So, access to a deduction is about the specialist physical demands and requirements of your role.

A recent case before the administrative appeals tribunal (AAT) explored the boundary of who can claim fitness expenses, confirming that a prison dog handler could claim a deduction for the cost of his gym membership. In this case, the dog handler was responsible for training and maintaining two dogs. He was required to be available to assist in emergencies that might arise. While these emergencies didn’t arise often, the handler had to be prepared for the possibility of an emergency arising at any time. Reaching this decision, the AAT noted the handler:

  • Was required to maintain a high degree of anaerobic fitness (including muscle strength sufficient to control a large German shepherd on a lead in a volatile situation);
  • Was required to maintain a high degree of aerobic fitness (that is, a degree of speed and agility sufficient to enable him to move effectively with, and control and direct, his dog in an emergency); and
  • Must also be prepared to restrain prisoners himself.

While the employer in this case did not specify any particular level of fitness for the dog handler role, the AAT held that a superior level of fitness was implicitly demanded. However, it did not all go the way of the dog handler. His claim for supplement expenses, travel to and from the gym, and gym clothing was denied.

While some commentators have suggested that the floodgates are now open for gym membership claims, as always, the devil is in the detail. To claim a tax deduction for fitness expenses it is generally necessary to be part of a specialist workforce. Police Officers for example cannot generally claim fitness expenses despite the fact that, like the dog handler in the AAT case, they need to respond quickly to emergencies and may need to subdue people. Unless they are part of a specialist response unit that is required to have a specific, high level of fitness, they are unlikely to be able to claim their gym membership expenses.

So, for the rest of us, gym memberships will continue to be a labour of self-love and care and not an essential part of how we earn our income.

 

 

What’s changing on 1 July 2022?

A series of reforms and changes will commence on 1 July 2022. Here’s what is coming up:

For business

Superannuation guarantee increase to 10.5%

The Superannuation Guarantee (SG) rate will rise from 10% to 10.5% on 1 July 2022 and will continue to increase by 0.5% each year until it reaches 12% on 1 July 2025.

If you have employees, what this will mean depends on your employment agreements. If the employment agreement states the employee is paid on a ‘total remuneration’ basis (base plus SG and any other allowances), then their take home pay might be reduced by 0.5%. That is, a greater percentage of their total remuneration will be directed to their superannuation fund. For employees paid a rate plus superannuation, then their take home pay will remain the same and the 0.5% increase will be added to their SG payments.

$450 super guarantee threshold removed

From 1 July 2022, the $450 threshold test will be removed and all employees aged 18 or over will need to be paid superannuation guarantee regardless of how much they earn. It is important to ensure that your payroll system accommodates this change so you do not inadvertently underpay superannuation.

For employees under the age of 18, super guarantee is only paid if the employee works more than 30 hours per week.

Profits of professional services firms

The ATO has been concerned for some time about how many professional services firms are structured – specifically, professional practices such as lawyers, accountants, architects, medical practices, engineers, architects etc., operating through trusts, companies and partnerships of discretionary trusts and how the profits from these practices are being taxed.

New ATO guidance that comes into effect from 1 July 2022, takes a strong stance on structures designed to divert income in a way that results in principal practitioners receiving relatively small amounts of income personally for their work and reducing their taxable income. Where these structures appear to be in place to divert income to create a tax benefit for the professional, Part IVA may apply. Part IVA is an integrity rule which allows the Tax Commissioner to remove any tax benefit received by a taxpayer where they entered into an arrangement in a contrived manner in order to obtain a tax benefit. Significant penalties can also apply when Part IVA is triggered.

A new method of assessing the level of risk associated with profits generated by a professional services firm and how they flow through to individual practitioners and their related parties, will come into effect from 1 July 2022. Professional firms will need to assess their structures to understand their risk rating, and if necessary, either make changes to reduce their risks level or ensure appropriate documentation is in place to justify their position.

Lowering tax instalments for small business – PAYG

PAYG instalments are regular prepayments made during the year of the tax on business and investment income. The actual amount owing is then reconciled at the end of the income year when the tax return is lodged.

Normally, GST and PAYG instalment amounts are adjusted using a GDP adjustment or uplift. For the 2022-23 income year, the Government has set this uplift factor at 2% instead of the 10% that would have applied. The 2% uplift rate will apply to small to medium enterprises eligible to use the relevant instalment methods for instalments for the 2022-23 income year:

  • Up to $10 million annual aggregated turnover for GST instalments, and
  • $50 million annual aggregated turnover for PAYG instalments

The effect of the change is that small businesses using this PAYG instalment method will have more cash during the year to utilise. However, the actual amount of tax owing on the tax return will not change, just the amount you need to contribute during the year.

Trust distributions to companies

The ATO recently released a draft tax determination dealing specifically with unpaid distributions owed by trusts to corporate beneficiaries. If the amount owed by the trust is deemed to be a loan then it can potentially fall within the scope of the integrity provisions in Division 7A. If certain steps are not taken, such as placing the unpaid amount under a complying loan agreement, these amounts can be treated as deemed unfranked dividends for tax purposes and taxable at the taxpayer’s marginal tax rate. The ATO guidance deals specifically with, and potentially changes, when an unpaid entitlement to trust income will start being treated as a loan depending on the wording of the resolution to pay a distribution. The new guidance applies to trust entitlements arising on or after 1 July 2022.

For you

Home loan guarantee scheme extended

The Home Guarantee Scheme guarantees part of an eligible buyer’s home loan, enabling people to buy a home with a smaller deposit and without the need for lenders mortgage insurance. An additional 25,000 guarantees will be available for eligible first home owners (35,000 per year), and 2,500 additional single parent family home guarantees (5,000 per year).

Your superannuation

Work-test repeal – enabling those under 75 to contribute to super

Currently, a work test applies to superannuation contributions made by people aged 67 or over. In general, the work test requires that you are gainfully employed for at least 40 hours over a 30 day period in the financial year.

From 1 July 2022, the work-test has been scrapped and individuals aged younger than 75 years will be able to make or receive non-concessional (including under the bring-forward rule) or salary sacrifice superannuation contributions without meeting the work test, subject to existing contribution caps.

The work test will still apply to personal deductible contributions.

This change will also see those aged under 75 be able to access the ‘bring forward rule’ if your total superannuation balance allows. The bring forward rule enables you to contribute up to three years’ worth of non-concessional contributions to your super in one year.

Downsizer contributions from age 60

From 1 July 2022, eligible individuals aged 60 years or older can choose to make a ‘downsizer contribution’ into their superannuation of up to $300,000 per person ($600,000 per couple) from the proceeds of selling their home. Currently, you need to be 65 years or older to utilise downsizer contributions.

Downsizer contributions can be made from the sale of your principal residence that you have owned for the past ten or more years. These contributions are excluded from the age test, work test and your total superannuation balance (but not exempt from your transfer balance cap).

First home saver scheme – using super to save for a first home

The First Home Super Saver Scheme enables first home buyers to withdraw voluntary contributions they have made to superannuation and any associated earnings, to put toward the cost of a first home. At present, the maximum amount of voluntary contributions you can make and withdraw is $30,000. From 1 July 2022, the maximum amount will increase to $50,000. The benefit of this scheme is the concessional tax treatment of superannuation.

 

 

ATO ramps up heat on directors

Throughout March, the ATO sent letters to directors who are potentially in breach of their obligations to ensure that the company they represent has met its PAYG withholding, superannuation guarantee charge, or GST obligations.

These letters are a warning shot and should not be ignored.

The director penalty regime ensures that directors are personally liable for certain debts of the company if the debts are not actively managed. The liability applies to both current and former directors.

To recover this debt, the ATO will issue a director penalty notice to the individual directors. The ATO can then take action to recover the unpaid amount, including:

  • By issuing garnishee notices,
  • By offsetting tax credits owed to the director against the penalty, or
  • By initiating legal recovery proceedings against the director.

In some cases it is possible for the penalty to be remitted but this depends on when the PAYGW, GST or SGC amounts are reported to the ATO. For example, in some cases the penalty can be remitted if an administrator or small business restructuring practitioner is appointed to the company, or the company begins to be wound up. However, this is normally only possible for PAYGW and GST amounts if they are reported to the ATO within 3 months of the due date. For SGC amounts this is only possible if the unpaid amount is reported by the due date of the SGC statement.

If the unpaid amounts are not reported to the ATO by the relevant deadline then the only way for the penalty to be remitted is for the debt to be paid in full. Winding up the company at this stage will not make the liability of the directors go away.

If you have received a warning letter from the ATO or a director penalty notice then please contact us immediately.

 

 

The ATO’s Attack on Trusts and Trust Distributions

Late last month, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) released a package of new guidance material that directly targets how trusts distribute income. Many family groups will pay higher taxes (now and potentially retrospectively) as a result of the ATO’s more aggressive approach.

Family trust beneficiaries at risk

The tax legislation contains an integrity rule, section 100A, which is aimed at situations where income of a trust is appointed in favour of a beneficiary but the economic benefit of the distribution is provided to another individual or entity. If trust distributions are caught by section 100A, then this generally results in the trustee being taxed at penalty rates rather than the beneficiary being taxed at their own marginal tax rates.

The latest guidance suggests that the ATO will be looking to apply section 100A to some arrangements that are commonly used for tax planning purposes by family groups. The result is a much smaller  boundary on what is acceptable to the ATO which means that some family trusts are at risk of higher tax liabilities and penalties.

ATO redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable

Section 100A has been around since 1979 but to date, has rarely been invoked by the ATO except where there is obvious and deliberate trust stripping at play. However, the ATO’s latest guidance suggests that the ATO is now willing to use section 100A to attack a wider range of scenarios.

There are some important exceptions to section 100A, including where income is appointed to minor beneficiaries and where the arrangement is part of an ordinary family or commercial dealing. Much of the ATO’s recent guidance focuses on whether arrangements form part of an ordinary family or commercial dealing. The ATO notes that this exclusion won’t necessarily apply simply because arrangements are commonplace or they involve members of a family group. For example, the ATO suggests that section 100A could apply to some situations where a child gifts money that is attributable to a family trust distribution to their parents.

The ATO’s guidance sets out four ‘risk zones’ – referred to as the white, green, blue and red zones. The risk zone for a particular arrangement will determine the ATO’s response:

WHITE ZONE
This is aimed at pre-1 July 2014 arrangements. The ATO will not look into these arrangements unless it is part of an ongoing investigation, for arrangements that continue after this date, or where the trust and beneficiaries failed to lodge tax returns by 1 July 2017.

GREEN ZONE
Green zone arrangements are low risk arrangements and are unlikely to be reviewed by the ATO, assuming the arrangement is properly documented. For example, the ATO suggests that when a trust appoints income to an individual but the funds are paid into a joint bank account that the individual holds with their spouse then this would ordinarily be a low-risk scenario. Or, where parents pay for the deposit on an adult child’s mortgage using their trust distribution and this is a one-off arrangement.

BLUE ZONE
Arrangements in the blue zone might be reviewed by the ATO. The blue zone is basically the default zone and covers arrangements that don’t fall within one of the other risk zones. The blue zone is likely to include scenarios where funds are retained by the trustee, but the arrangement doesn’t fall within the scope of the specific scenarios covered in the green zone.

Section 100A does not automatically apply to blue zone arrangements, it just means that the ATO will need to be satisfied that the arrangement is not subject to section 100A.

RED ZONE
Red zone arrangements will be reviewed in detail. These are arrangements the ATO suspects are designed to deliberately reduce tax, or where an individual or entity other than the beneficiary is benefiting.

High on the ATO’s list for the red zone are arrangements where an adult child’s entitlement to trust income is paid to a parent or other caregiver to reimburse them for expenses incurred before the adult child turned 18. For example, school fees at a private school. Or, where a loan (debit balance account) is provided by the trust to the adult child for expenses they incurred before they were 18 and the entitlement is used to pay off the loan. These arrangements will be looked at closely and if the ATO determines that section 100A applies, tax will be applied at the top marginal rate to the relevant amount and this could apply across a number of income years.

The ATO indicated that circular arrangements could also fall within the scope of section 100A. For example, this can occur when a trust owns shares in a company, the company is a beneficiary of that trust and where income is circulated between the entities on a repeating basis.

For example, section 100A could be triggered if:

  • The trustee resolves to appoint income to the company at the end of year 1.
  • The company includes its share of the trust’s net income in its assessable income for year 1 and pays tax at the corporate rate.
  • The company pays a fully franked dividend to the trustee in year 2, sourced from the trust income, and the dividend forms part of the trust income and net income in year 2.
  • The trustee makes the company presently entitled to some or all of the trust income at the end of year 2 (which might include the franked distribution).
  • These steps are repeated in subsequent years.

Distributions from a trust to an entity with losses could also fall within the red zone unless it is clear that the economic benefit associated with the income is provided to the beneficiary with the losses. If the economic benefit associated with the income that has been appointed to the entity with losses is utilised by the trust or another entity then section 100A could apply.

Who is likely to be impacted?

The ATO’s updated guidance focuses primarily on distributions made to adult children, corporate beneficiaries, and entities with losses. Depending on how arrangements are structured, there is potentially a significant level of risk. However, it is important to remember that section 100A is not confined to these situations.

Distributions to beneficiaries who are under a legal disability (e.g., children under 18) are excluded from these rules.

For those with discretionary trusts it is important to ensure that all trust distribution arrangements are reviewed in light of the ATO’s latest guidance to determine the level of risk associated with the arrangements. It is also vital to ensure that appropriate documentation is in place to demonstrate how funds relating to trust distributions are being used or applied for the benefit of beneficiaries.

Companies entitled to trust income

As part of the broader package of updated guidance targeting trusts and trust distributions, the ATO has also released a draft determination dealing specifically with unpaid distributions owed by trusts to corporate beneficiaries. If the amount owed by the trust is deemed to be a loan then it can potentially fall within the scope of another integrity provision in the tax law, Division 7A.

Division 7A captures situations where shareholders or their related parties access company profits in the form of loans, payments or forgiven debts. If certain steps are not taken, such as placing the loan under a complying loan agreement, these amounts can be treated as deemed unfranked dividends for tax purposes and taxable at the taxpayer’s marginal tax rate.

The latest ATO guidance looks at when an unpaid entitlement to trust income will start being treated as a loan. The treatment of unpaid entitlements to trust income as loans for Division 7A purposes is not new. What is new is the ATO’s approach in determining the timing of when these amounts start being treated as loans. Under the new guidance, if a trustee resolves to appoint income to a corporate beneficiary, then the time the unpaid entitlement starts being treated as a loan will depend on how the entitlement is expressed by the trustee (e.g., in trust distribution resolutions etc):

  • If the company is entitled to a fixed dollar amount of trust income the unpaid entitlement will generally be treated as a loan for Division 7A purposes in the year the present entitlement arises; or
  • If the company is entitled to a percentage of trust income, or some other part of trust income identified in a calculable manner, the unpaid entitlement will generally be treated as a loan from the time the trust income (or the amount the company is entitled to) is calculated, which will often be after the end of the year in which the entitlement arose.

This is relevant in determining when a complying loan agreement needs to be put in place to prevent the full unpaid amount being treated as a deemed dividend for tax purposes when the trust needs to start making principal and interest repayments to the company.

The ATO’s views on “sub-trust arrangements” has also been updated. Basically, the ATO is suggesting that sub-trust arrangements will no longer be effective in preventing an unpaid trust distribution from being treated as a loan for Division 7A purposes if the funds are used by the trust, shareholder of the company or any of their related parties.

The new guidance represents a significant departure from the ATO’s previous position in some ways. The upshot is that in some circumstances, the management of unpaid entitlements will need to change. But, unlike the guidance on section 100A, these changes will only apply to trust entitlements arising on or after 1 July 2022.

 

Immediate Deductions Extended

Temporary full expensing enables your business to fully expense the cost of:

  • new depreciable assets
  • improvements to existing eligible assets, and
  • second hand assets

in the first year of use.

Introduced in the 2020-21 Budget and now extended until 30 June 2023, this measure enables an asset’s cost to be fully deductible upfront rather than being claimed over the asset’s life, regardless of the cost of the asset. Legislation passed by Parliament last month extends the rules to cover assets that are first used or installed ready for use by 30 June 2023.

Some expenses are excluded including improvements to land or buildings that are not treated as plant or as separate depreciating assets in their own right. Expenditure on these improvements would still normally be claimed at 2.5% or 4% per year.

For companies it is important to note that the loss carry back rules have not as yet been extended to 30 June 2023 – we’re still waiting for the relevant legislation to be passed. If a company claims large deductions for depreciating assets in a particular income year and this puts the company into a loss position then the tax loss can generally only be carried forward to future years. However, the loss carry back rules allow some companies to apply current year losses against taxable profits in prior years and claim a refund of the tax that has been paid. At this stage the loss carry back rules are due to expire at the end of the 2022 income year, but we are hopeful that the rules will be extended to cover the 2023 income year as well.

 

Federal Budget 2022-23

The Federal Budget has been brought forward to 29 March 2022. With the pandemic and the war in Ukraine we have seen a lot less commentary this year about what to expect in the Budget. But, as an election budget, we typically expect to see a series of measures designed to boost productivity, many of which are likely to benefit businesses willing to invest in the future. Bolstering the workforce, and measures to increase the participation of women, is also a potential feature as Australia struggles with post pandemic worker shortages. Fiscally, the Budget is likely to be in a better position than expected in previous Budgets so there is more in the Government coffers to spend on initiatives. Look out for our update on the important issues the day after the Budget is released.

 

Are Your Contractors Really Employees

Many business owners assume that if they hire independent contractors they will not be responsible for PAYG withholding, superannuation guarantee, payroll tax and workers compensation obligations. However, each set of rules operates a bit differently and in some cases genuine contractors can be treated as if they were employees. Also, correctly classifying the employment relationship can be difficult and there are significant penalties faced by businesses that get it wrong.

Two cases handed down by the High Court late last month clarify the way the courts determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The High Court confirmed that it is necessary to look at the totality of the relationship and use a ‘multifactorial approach’ in determining whether a worker is an employee. That is, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck, even if on paper, you call it a chicken.

In CFMMEU v Personnel Contracting and ZG Operations Australia v Jamse, the court placed a significant amount of weight on the terms of the written contract that the parties had entered into. The court took the approach that if the written agreement was not a sham and not in dispute, then the terms of the agreement could be relied on to determine the relationship. However, this does not mean that simply calling a worker an independent contractor in an agreement classifies them as a contractor. In this case, a labour hire contractor was determined to be an employee despite the contract stating he was an independent contractor.

In this case, Personnel Contracting offered the labourer a role with the labour hire company. The labourer, a backpacker with some but limited experience on construction sites, signed an Administrative Services Agreement (ASA) which described him as a “self-employed contractor.” The labourer was offered work the next day on a construction site run by a client of Personnel Contracting, performing labouring tasks at the direction of a supervisor employed by the client. The labourer worked on the site for several months before leaving the state. Some months later, he returned and started work at another site of the Personnel Contracting’s same client. The question before the court was whether the labourer was an employee.

Overturning a previous decision by the Full Federal Court, the High Court held that despite the contract stating the labourer was an independent contractor, under the terms of the contract, the labourer was required to work as directed by the company and its client. In return, he was entitled to be paid for the work he performed. In effect, the contract with the client was a “contract of service rather than a contract for services”, as such the labourer was an employee.

The second case, ZG Operations Australia v Jamse produced a different result.

In this case, two truck drivers were employed by ZG Operations for nearly 40 years. In the mid-1980’s, the company insisted that it would no longer employ the drivers, and would continue to use their services only if they purchased their trucks and entered into contracts to carry goods for the company. The respondents agreed to the new arrangement and Mr Jamsek and Mr Whitby each set up a partnership with their wife. Each partnership executed a written contract with the company for the provision of delivery services, purchased trucks from the company, paid the maintenance and operational costs of those trucks, invoiced the company for its delivery services, and was paid by the company for those services. The income from the work was declared as partnership income for tax purposes and split between each individual and their wife.

Overturning a previous decision in the Full Federal Court, the High Court held that the drivers were not employees of the company.

Consistent with the decision in the Personnel Contracting case, a majority of the court held that where parties have comprehensively committed the terms of their relationship to a written contract (and this is not challenged on the basis that it is a sham or is otherwise ineffective under general law or statute), the characterisation of the relationship must be determined with reference to the rights and obligations of the parties under that contract.

After 1985 or 1986, the contracting parties were the partnerships and the company. The contracts between the partnerships and the company involved the provision by the partnerships of both the use of the trucks owned by the partnerships and the services of a driver to drive those trucks. This relationship was not an employment relationship. In this case the fact that the workers owned and maintained significant assets that were used in carrying out the work carried a significant amount of weight.

For employers struggling to work out if they have correctly classified their contractors as employees, it will be important to review the agreements to ensure that the “rights and obligations of the parties under that contract” are consistent with an independent contracting arrangement. Merely labelling a worker as an independent contractor is not enough if the rights and obligations under the agreement are not consistent with the label. The High Court stated, “To say that the legal character of a relationship between persons is to be determined by the rights and obligations which are established by the parties’ written contract is distinctly not to say that the “label” which the parties may have chosen to describe their relationship is determinative of, or even relevant to, that characterisation.”

A genuine independent contractor who is providing personal services will typically be:

  • Autonomous rather than subservient in their decision-making;
  • Financially self-reliant rather than economically dependent upon the business of another; and,
  • Chasing profit (that is a return on risk) rather than simply a payment for the time, skill and effort provided.

Every business that employs contractors should have a process in place to ensure the correct classification of employment arrangements and review those arrangements over time. Even when a worker is a genuine independent contractor this doesn’t necessarily mean that the business won’t have at least some employment-like obligations to meet. For example, some contractors are deemed to be employees for superannuation guarantee and payroll tax purposes.

 

 

 

Year of the Tiger: Roaring or Bellowing?

The 2022 Luna New Year, Year of the Tiger, is courage and bravery. It is a year to drive out evil and one of momentum and change. The message; walk boldly with courage. And it seems the Reserve Bank Governor is aligned with this sentiment.

The Tiger economy

At a recent speech to the National Press Club, Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe was optimistic about Australia’s prospects in 2022. This optimism is driven by strong GDP growth that saw growth outstrip the RBA’s forecast to reach 5%, and strong jobs growth with the unemployment rate at 4.2% – the lowest rate since the resources boom. Unemployment is expected to reduce further to 3.75% by the end of 2022, and if it does, it will be the lowest unemployment level since the early 1970s. Underemployment is also at its lowest rate in 13 years.

In addition, “household and business balance sheets are generally in good shape and wages growth is picking up.”

The surprise inflation figures

While wages growth is “picking up”, the forecast remains sluggish at 2.25%. Australia’s wages growth has remained lethargic for a decade now, which will come as a surprise to many business operators competing for skilled workers as, on the ground, the opposite feels true. Combined with a surprise spike in inflation (CPI) well above expectations at 3.5% (+2% on RBA forecasts), pushed predominantly by a sharp increase in petrol prices (32% over the past year) and the cost of constructing new homes, the purchasing power of Australians has declined. There has also been a large increase in the price of consumer durables (cars, fridges etc.,) and less discounting in the face of strong demand as supply chain problems take hold.

Australia is not alone in this. The UK inflation rate jumped to 5.4%, 5.7% in the United States and 5.9% in New Zealand in the same period.

 

Supply woes

The sharp increase in interest rates comes on the back of, “very significant disruptions in supply chains and distribution networks,” with labour shortages in particular dominating news coverage as businesses struggle to maintain momentum with staff impacted by either COVID-19 or isolation requirements. National Cabinet harmonised the definition of a ‘close contact’ at the end of December 2021 for most Australian States and Territories and reduced the isolation period to seven days (from 14).

The recent NAB quarterly business survey reported that, “ongoing supply chain issues and border closures saw 85% of firms report availability of labour as a constraint on output, while 47% reported availability of materials as a constraint – both records in the history of the survey. As a result, both cost growth and retail price growth remained elevated.” With global staff shortages, come bottlenecks in the supply chain. For many businesses, estimating what stock they need has become a crystal ball exercise rather than a predictable science and in some cases they are ordering ahead to reduce the supply risks, which has a knock-on effect of increasing demand for raw materials. And, this is without factoring in the problem of panic buying (toilet paper anyone) as customers anxiously watch dwindling supplies on supermarket shelves. Supply chain problems, both in Australia and globally, are not anticipated to normalise for another 12 to 24 months.

The RBA Governor’s three takeaways are:

  • The economy has been remarkably resilient;
  • The link between the strength of the real economy and prices and wages remains alive; and
  • The supply side matters for both economic activity and prices.

You could almost add, no one really knows, as a fourth point as an unexpected change, like a new virulent COVID variant, or further lockdowns, could rewrite the forecasts. But, there is plenty of room for optimism. What we have seen to date is that when there is an opportunity to rebound, to return to normal, the economy bounces back quickly and often much faster than anticipated. Afterall, health, not the economy, has been the catalyst for the crisis.

When will interest rates rise?

During his National Press Club address, Mr Lowe was asked the question, “those people are now looking very carefully at your words, trying to read the tea leaves and work out what they do with their mortgages? You obviously can’t go to the RBA Governor looking for individual financial advice. But, if it was your mortgage, would you be scrambling for a fixed rate or sticking with a variable?”

His response, “… the advice that I would give to people is, make sure that you have buffers. Interest rates will go up. And the stronger the economy, the better progress on unemployment, the faster and the sooner the increase in interest rates will be. So, interest rates will go up.”

A rate increase by the RBA would be the first since November 2020. Westpac and AMP Capital are both forecasting the first increase to occur in August this year, then a second towards the end of 2022.

While the RBA might be taking a ‘steady as she goes’ approach, many lenders have already factored in increases as the international cost of funding increases. RateCity data shows that, “a total of 17 lenders have hiked fixed rates so far this year, but that number will rise and quickly” – Westpac increased its fixed rates at the end of January and the CBA and ING (for new customers only) at the start of February.

But with households having accumulated more than $200 billion in additional savings over the past 2 years, the RBA is hopeful that any increase will dampen inflation pressures but not impinge on growth.

 

Professional Services Firm Profits Guidance Finalised

The Australian Taxation Office’s finalised position on the allocation of profits from professional firms starts on 1 July 2022.

The ATO’s guidance uses a series of factors to determine the level of risk associated with profits generated by a professional services firm and how they flow through to individual practitioners and their related parties. The ATO may look to apply the general anti-avoidance rules in Part IVA to practitioners who don’t fall within the low-risk category.

With the new guidelines taking effect on 1 July 2022, professional firms will need to assess their structures now to understand their risk rating, and if necessary, either make changes to reduce their risks level or ensure appropriate documentation is in place to justify their position.

The problem

The finalised guidance has had a long gestation period. The ATO has been concerned for some time about how many professional services firms are structured – specifically, professional practices such as lawyers, accountants, architects, medical practices, engineers, architects etc., operating through trusts, companies and partnerships of discretionary trusts and how the profits from these practices are being taxed.

The ATO guidance takes a strong stance on structures designed to divert income in a way that results in principal practitioners receiving relatively small amounts of income personally for their work and reducing their taxable income. Where these structures appear to be in place to divert income to create a tax benefit for the professional, Part IVA may apply. Part IVA is an integrity rule which allows the Commissioner to remove any tax benefit received by a taxpayer where they entered into an arrangement in a contrived manner in order to obtain a tax benefit. Significant penalties can also apply when Part IVA is triggered.

Determining the risk rating

The guidance sets out a series of tests which are used to calculate a risk score. This risk score is then used to classify the practitioner as falling within a Green, Amber or Red risk zone, which determines if the ATO should take a closer look at you and your firm. Those in the green zone are at low risk of the ATO directing its compliance efforts to you. Those in the red zone, however, can expect the ATO to conduct further analysis as a matter of priority which could lead to an ATO audit.

Before calculating the risk score it is necessary to consider two gateway tests:

  • Gateway 1 – considers whether there is commercial rationale for the business structure and the way in which profits are distributed, especially in the form of remuneration paid. Red flags would include arrangements that are more complex than necessary to achieve the relevant commercial objective, and where the tax result is at odds with the commercial venture, for example, where a tax loss is claimed for a profitable commercial venture.
  • Gateway 2 – requires an assessment of whether there are any high-risk features. The ATO sets out some examples of arrangements that would be considered high-risk, including the use of financing arrangements relating to transactions between related parties.

If the gateway tests are passed, then you can self-assess your risk level against the ATO’s risk assessment factors. There are three factors to be considered:

  • The professional’s share of profit from the firm (and service entities etc) compared with the share of firm profit derived by the professional and their related parties;
  • The total effective tax rate for income received from the firm by the professional and their related parties; and
  • The professional’s remuneration as a percentage of the commercial benchmark for the services provided to the firm.

The resulting ‘score’ from these factors determines your risk zone. Some arrangements that were considered low risk in prior years under the ATO’s previous guidance may now fall into a higher risk zone. In these cases, the ATO is allowing a transitional period for those practitioners to continue to apply the previous guidelines until 30 June 2024.

For professional services firms, it will be important to assess the risk level and this needs to be done for each principal practitioner separately. Those in the amber or red zone who want to be classified as low risk need to start thinking about what needs to change to move into the lower risk zone.

Where other compliance issues are present – such as failure to recognise capital gains, misuse of the superannuation systems, failure to lodge returns or late lodgement, etc., – a green zone risk assessment will not apply.

 

 

PCR and RAT tests to be tax deductible, FBT free

The Treasurer has announced that PCR and rapid antigen tests (RAT) will be tax deductible for individuals and exempt from fringe benefits tax (FBT) for employers if purchased for work purposes.

There has been confusion over the tax treatment of RAT tests with the Prime Minister stating for some time that they are tax deductible, but in reality, the tests were probably only deductible in limited circumstances.

If you have had to purchase RAT tests to be able to work, you will be able to receive a tax deduction for the cost you have incurred from 1 July 2021 (you will need evidence of the expense). If the RAT test cost $20, someone on a marginal tax rate of 32.5% would receive a tax benefit of $6.50.

For business, it is expected that RAT, PCR and other coronavirus tests will be exempt from FBT from the 2021-22 FBT year.

Legislation enabling the change is expected before Parliament this week.

 

Cash injection for struggling businesses

Businesses struggling with the Omicron wave of the pandemic have been offered new grants and support in NSW, SA and WA.

New South Wales

The NSW Small Business Support package provides eligible employing businesses with a lump sum payment of 20% of weekly payroll, up to a maximum of $5,000 per week for the month of February 2022. The minimum weekly payment for employers is $750 per week.

Eligible non-employing businesses will receive $500 per week (paid as a lump sum of $2,000).

To access the package, businesses must:

  • Have an aggregated annual turnover between $75,000 and $50 million (inclusive) for the year ended 30 June 2021; and
  • Experienced a decline in turnover of at least 40% due to Public Health Orders or the impact of COVID-19 during the month of January 2022 compared to January 2021 or January 2020; and
  • Experienced a decline in turnover of 40% or more from 1 to 14 February 2022 compared to the same fortnight in either 2021 or 2020 (you must use the same comparison year utilised in the decline in turnover test for January); and
  • Maintain their employee headcount from “the date of the announcement of the scheme” (30 January 2022).

The support package only covers the month of February 2022. Applications for support are expected to open mid-February.

South Australia

The South Australian Government has introduced two rounds of support for businesses impacted by health restrictions:

  • The Tourism, hospitality and gym grant provides $6,000 for employing businesses and $2,000 for non-employing business whose turnover reduced by 30% or more between 10 January 2022 to 30 January 2022 (inclusive) comparable to 2019-20 (or 2020-21 for new business). The grant will automatically be paid to those who applied for and received the grant based on the turnover period 27/12/21 to 9/1/22.
  • The Business hardship grant provides $6,000 for employing businesses and $2,000 for non-employing businesses whose turnover reduced by 50% or more between 10 January 2022 to 30 January 2022 (inclusive) comparable to 2019-20 (or 2020-21 for new business). The grant will automatically be paid to those who applied for and received the grant based on the turnover period 27/12/21 to 9/1/22.

Applications for the grants open 14 February 2022.

Western Australia

Western Australia has been hit with compounding issues of border closures, COVID-19 and natural disasters.

The latest grant provides financial assistance of up to $12,500 ($1,130 for each impacted day) to small businesses in the hospitality, music events or arts sectors that were directly financially impacted by the Chief Health Officer’s COVID Restrictions (Directions) from 23 December 2021 to 4 January 2022. Non-employing businesses will receive up to $4,400 ($400 per day).

To be eligible, your business must:

  • Be located within the Perth, Rottnest or Peel regions; and
  • Have a valid ABN; and
  • Have an annual turnover of more than $50,000; and
  • Australia wide payroll of less than $4m in 2020-21; and
  • Operate in the hospitality sector, the music events industry or the creative and performing arts sectors that were directly impacted by the restrictions; and
  • Have experienced a decline in turnover of at least 30% compared to the same period in the prior year (or another comparable period for new businesses).

Applications are open through SmartyGrants.

 

 

 

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments rules change

The rules for the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, the payment accessible to those who have lost work because they have had to self-isolate with COVID-19, or are caring for someone who contracted it, changed on 18 January 2022.

The new rules change the definition of a close contact in line with the harmonised national definition. The payment is now accessible if you are a close contact because you either usually live with the person who has tested positive with COVID-19, or have stayed in the same household for more than 4 hours with the person who has tested positive with COVID-19 during their infectious period.

The payment provides:

  • $450 if you lost at least 8 hours or a full day’s work, and less than 20 hours of work
  • $750 if you lost 20 hours or more of work.

To claim the payment, you will need to be an Australian citizen, permanent visa holder (or temporary visa holder with a right to work) or a New Zealand passport holder. The payment is also subject to means testing with a $10,000 illiquid assets test.

 

 

NSW Business Support

The NSW Government has announced a $1bn support package for struggling NSW small businesses.

Acknowledging the difficulty that business operators have faced, the NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has announced a package of measures to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19 over January and February 2022.

Releasing the package, the NSW Treasurer said, “household balance sheets are strong at the moment, when we get out of this wave, we expect a snap back and the economy will bounce back better on the other side of this.”

 

Small Business Support Package

The NSW Small Business Support package provides eligible employing businesses with a lump sum payment of 20% of weekly payroll, up to a maximum of $5,000 per week for the month of February 2022. The minimum weekly payment for employers is $750 per week.

Eligible non-employing businesses will receive $500 per week (paid as a lump sum of $2,000).

Eligibility

To access the package, businesses must:

  • Have an aggregated annual turnover between $75,000 and $50 million (inclusive) for the year ended 30 June 2021; and
  • Experienced a decline in turnover of at least 40% due to Public Health Orders or the impact of COVID-19 during the month of January 2022 compared to January 2021 or January 2020; and
  • Experienced a decline in turnover of 40% or more from 1 to 14 February 2022 compared to the same fortnight in either 2021 or 2020 (you must use the same comparison year utilised in the decline in turnover test for January); and
  • Maintain their employee headcount from “the date of the announcement of the scheme” (30 January 2022).

The support package only covers the month of February 2022. Applications for support are expected to open mid-February.

 

Fees and charges rebate increased and extended to RAT tests

The NSW small business fees and charges rebate has been increased from $2,000 to $3,000. In addition, the rebate has been extended to cover up to 50% of the cost of Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) purchased by the business to protect staff and clients. The rebate for RAT tests will be available “by March” and is unlikely to cover RAT tests purchased prior to the funding coming online to prevent additional pressures on the RAT test supply chain.

The rebate is not a cash payment but a digital credit that businesses can draw down on to offset the cost of eligible NSW and local government fees and charges.

Note that there is an existing $5,000 small business Alfresco Restart rebate available for small and medium food and beverage businesses wanting to create or expand their outdoor dining area. Applications for this rebate are open until the end of April 2022 (or when the allocation is exhausted).

Eligibility

The fees and charges rebate is available to sole traders, small business, and not-for profits that have:

  • Total Australian wages below the NSW Government 2020-21 payroll tax threshold ($1.2 million)
  • An Australian Business Number (ABN) registered in NSW and/or have business premises physically located and operating in NSW.

Already registered businesses will receive an automatic top up of $1,000 and newly registering businesses will receive a rebate of $3,000. Only one rebate is available for each ABN.

 

Commercial landlord relief extended

The protections under the Retail and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation 2021 for small retail and commercial tenants will be extended for an additional two months, until 13 March 2022. This regulation prohibits certain actions by landlords (such as lock out or eviction) unless they have first renegotiated rent with eligible tenants and attempted mediation.

The grant provides up to $3,000 per month (GST inclusive), per property, for eligible landlords who have provided rental waivers to affected tenants.

Rent waived must comprise at least half of any rental reduction provided. The remaining portion may be a rental deferral. The grant does not apply to rent deferrals.

Grants are paid as a lump sum amount for the rent waived.

 

 

NSW Performing Arts Package extended

The existing NSW Performing Arts COVID Support Package has been extended until April 2022.

Eligibility

To be eligible for funding, you must be one of the following:

  • An eligible venue (list published by Create NSW)
  • A producer of an eligible performance scheduled to perform at one of the eligible venues
  • A promoter of an eligible performance scheduled to perform at one of the eligible venues.

See CreateNSW for more details.

 

Merry Christmas

If someone asked you what your ideal day is, what would you answer?

This year was a year where many of us have taken stock of what is important, refined our goals, and focussed on closing the gap between our ideal and our reality.

We’ll look forward to working with you again in 2022 and helping you to close that gap!

On behalf of all the team we wish you a safe and happy Christmas.

 

If Santa was an Australian tax resident

A lighter look at the complexity of Australian taxation laws and the year that has been.

Dear Mr Claus,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide strategic business, tax and compliance advice for your operation. We’re pleased you have initiated this advice as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has instigated a number or reviews that may impact on your operations and your team, and its relationship to contractors. Some of these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

We have identified a number of areas of concern as a starting point for further discussions.  These include:

Western Australia border closures and ‘elf’ contractors

We understand that the hard border closure in Western Australia has created a series of logistical challenges for your delivery schedule. The very specific timing and nature of the gift delivery mean that, while existing vaccinated team members can enter Western Australia on a G2G pass, it is not possible to fulfil the 14 day quarantine requirements. To manage the Christmas Eve requirements, you have instigated a relationship with a local contractor.

We have several concerns about this relationship. Leaving aside our capacity to verify the existence of the elf in question, the elf appears to be an individual and not operating as a logistics specialist – no ABN is on record. Based on the information you have provided to us it appears that the elf is likely to be considered an employee of yours regardless of what your performance contract specifies. As such, you will be liable for superannuation guarantee and tax will need to be withheld from any payment to them. We refer you to the ATO’s contractor checklist.

The nature of the payment to the elf is also of concern. “Goodwill to all men” is an intangible asset and as such, we may need to bring in a specialist valuer. This asset has been a globally scare commodity over the last few years and while supply has improved dramatically since January 2021 and spikes in December each year, the normalised value is likely to be significant.

Business structure viability

The fact that you run a global enterprise that generates no income or profit but ‘gifts’ millions of toys each year produced by your offshore factory, has significant brand value, is represented extensively in merchandise, your spokespeople are employed by shopping centres all around the world, but you have never lodged a tax return or paid tax in Australia, is likely to trigger an ATO investigation. There is also a risk that the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce might become involved.

As discussed, we do not believe that the “it’s magic” argument will suffice in the event of an investigation. The argument has been tested previously with the ATO to no avail.

Your enterprise’s lack of structure also means that you are missing out on significant benefits. For example, tax deductions might be available for expenses you incur. A number of significant changes were made in recent years enabling businesses to immediately deduct the cost of assets used to produce income.

Expenses incurred

Your flying reindeers are likely to be considered beasts of burden and as such can be depreciated as plant. However, a deduction is only available to the extent that the reindeer are used to produce income that is taxable in Australia.

At present, you do not make any claim for expenses incurred during your Christmas Eve deliveries. While we understand food – cookies, reindeer food, glasses of milk and the occasional tipple of scotch – is provided free by the world’s children, there are likely to be other expenses that you incur. The cost of your uniform, dry-cleaning (removing chimney soot), and postage, to name a few.

Research & Development

We understand that the ‘flying sleigh’ was developed in your workshop and the technology has developed markedly over the years. In addition, your purpose built ‘naughty or nice’ technology system is unique (we note our concerns about potential privacy breaches and a lack of an opt in/opt out system; I know you have been watching the detrimental brand impact on several social media outlets). If incorporated, there is a potential to access the R&D tax incentive that provides entities with a turnover of less than $20m a refundable tax credit of your corporate tax rate plus 18.5%. The value of the tax offset is lower for companies with a turnover of $20m or more.

The technology developed in your workshop, if patented and commercialised, could revolutionise logistics and put a whole new meaning to same day delivery. We are certain that Australia Post in particular, would be very interested in entering into discussions with you.

Global taxation

There have been significant shifts over recent years to ensure that multinational enterprises pay tax in the country where they generate their income. The increase of digitalisation has only exacerbated the issue. While not earning an income, your enterprise operates globally with a workshop located in the North Pole and delivers to clients across the globe.

Representation in a particular country may also be enough to make your operation subject to local tax laws. You appear to have local agents – several thousand Santa representatives – with authority to operate on your behalf in shopping centres across Australia. These agents commit the operation with the promise of toys to millions of children. A local agent acting with authority may expose you to local tax laws. This is an issue that may extend well beyond Australia and requires urgent assessment.

As discussed, there are currently no provisions within Australian tax law to allow the Commissioner the discretion to ignore your tax liabilities as a goodwill gesture. Please contact us urgently regarding these issues.

Thank you.

 

The top Christmas tax questions

Every year, we are asked about the tax impact of various Christmas or holiday related gestures. Here are our top issues:

Staff gifts

The key to Christmas presents for your team is to keep the gift spontaneous, ad hoc, and from a tax perspective, below $300 per person. $300 is the minor benefit threshold for Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) so anything at or above this level will mean that your Christmas generosity will result in a gift to the Tax Office as well. To qualify as a minor benefit, the gifts also have to be ad hoc (no ongoing gym membership payments or giving the same person regular gift vouchers amounting to $300 or more).

A question we often get is what is the tax impact if you give your team say a hamper and a gift card? The good news is that the tax rules treat each item (the hamper and the gift card) separately. FBT won’t necessarily apply as long as the value of each item is less than $300. However, the minor benefits exemption is a bit more complex than this. For example, you need to look at the total value of similar benefits provided to the employee across the FBT year etc.

If you are planning to provide your team with a cash bonus rather than a gift voucher or other item of property, then this will be taxed in much the same way as salary and wages.  A cash bonus at Christmas is not a gift; it’s still income for the employee regardless of the intent. A PAYG withholding obligation will be triggered and the ATO’s view is that the bonus will also be treated as ordinary time earnings which means that it will be subject to the superannuation guarantee provisions unless it relates solely to overtime that was worked by the employee.

The staff Christmas Party

If you really want to avoid tax on your work Christmas party then host it in your office on a work day (COVID rules allowing!). This way, Fringe Benefits Tax is unlikely to apply regardless of how much you spend per person.  Also, taxi travel that starts or finishes at an employee’s place of work is also exempt from FBT.  So, if you have a few team members that need to be loaded into a taxi after overindulging in Christmas cheer, the ride home is exempt from FBT.

If your work Christmas party is out of the office, keep the cost of your celebrations below $300 per person. This way, you won’t generally pay FBT because anything below $300 per person is a minor benefit and exempt.

If the party is not held on your business premises, then the taxi travel is taken to be a separate benefit from the party itself and any Christmas gifts you have provided. In theory, this means that if the cost of each item per person is below $300 then the gift, party and taxi travel can all be FBT free.  However, the total cost of all benefits provided to the employees needs to be considered in determining whether the benefits are minor.

The trade-off to this is that if the costs associated with hosting the party are not subject to FBT then it would be difficult to claim a tax deduction or GST credits for the expenses.

If your business hosts slightly more extravagant parties and goes above the $300 per person minor benefit limit, you will generally pay FBT but you can also claim a tax deduction and GST credits for the cost of the event.

Client gifts

Few of us have that much time in the diary for pre-Christmas entertainment so why not give a gift instead?  In addition to a few extra hours saved and a lot less calories to work-off (most of us are still struggling post lock down), there is also a tax benefit.  As long as the gift you give to the client is given for relationship building with the expectation that the client will keep giving you work (that is, there is a link between the gift and revenue generation), then the gift is generally tax deductible as long as it doesn’t involve entertainment.

Entertaining your clients at Christmas is not tax deductible. If you take them out to a nice restaurant, to a show, or any other form of entertainment, then you can’t claim it as a deductible business expense and you can’t claim the GST credits either.  It’s goodwill to all men but not much more.

Charitable gift giving

The safest way to ensure that you or your business can claim a deduction for the full amount of the donation is to give cash to an organisation that is classified as a deductible gift recipient (DGR). And, the charities love it as they don’t have to spend any of their precious resources to receive it.

There are a few rules that make the difference between whether you will or won’t receive a tax deduction.

  • The charity must be a DGR. You can find the list of DGRs on the Australian Business Register.
  • If you buy any form of merchandise for the ‘donation’ – biscuits, teddies, balls or you buy something at an auction – then it’s generally not deductible (the rules become more complex in this area).  Your donation needs to be a gift, not an exchange for something material.  Buying a goat or funding a child’s education in the third world is generally ok because you are generally donating an amount equivalent to the cause rather than directly funding that thing.
  • The tax deduction for charitable giving over $2 goes to the person or entity whose name is on the receipt.

If your business is making a donation on behalf of someone else, such as a client or that friend ‘who has everything’, it will depend on how the donation is structured. The tax rules generally ensure that the deduction is available to the individual or entity who actually makes the gift or contribution. Having receipts issued in someone else’s name can make this more complex.

 

 

The ‘Backpacker Tax’ and the High Court

The High Court has ruled that the ‘backpacker tax’ is discriminatory. We look at the impact.

Since 2017, the ‘backpacker tax’ has taxed the first dollar of income a backpacker earns in Australia – regardless of their residency status – at the working holiday maker tax rate of 15% up to:

  • $37,000 in an income year for 2019-20 and earlier income years
  • $45,000 for 2020–21 and later income years.

When the tax was introduced in 2017, a backpacker would pay a maximum of $5,500 in tax on the first $37,000 of income. However, an Australian national performing the same work would have a maximum tax liability of $3,572.

In this case, Catherine Addy, a UK national working in Australia since 2015, contested her 2017 amended income tax assessment which imposed the backpacker tax on the grounds that it contravened the Double Tax Agreement (DTA) with the United Kingdom. Article 25(1) of the DTA seeks to ensure that nationals of the UK are not subject to “other or more burdensome” taxation than is imposed on Australian nationals “in the same circumstances, in particular with respect to residence”. Ms Addy was a tax resident of Australia.

The ATO did not accept Ms Addy’s argument and she launched action in the Federal Court. The Federal Court initially upheld the Tax Commissioner’s position. However, Ms Addy appealed the decision and the High Court overturned the Federal Court’s decision. The question for the Court was whether a more burdensome tax was imposed on Ms Addy owing to her nationality. The short answer was “yes”.

The High Court decision found that the backpacker tax is inconsistent with the non-discrimination clause in the UK DTA. That is, the flat working holiday maker tax rate is not valid in some situations. Non-discrimination clauses that are similar to the one in the UK DTA can also be found in the DTAs with Chile, Finland, Japan, Norway, Turkey, Germany and Israel.

So, what does this mean?

Some individuals who have been taxed under the backpacker tax rules may be able to obtain a tax refund from the ATO. However, there are a couple of key points to bear in mind:

  • The decision only impacts those classified as an Australian tax resident. Many individuals who are living or working in Australia on a working holiday visa will be classified as non-residents, in which case this decision will be less relevant.
  • The decision is only likely to be relevant to individuals who are a citizen/national of a country that has a DTA with Australia containing a non-discrimination clause similar to the clause found in the UK DTA.

 

2022: The year ahead

2021 was to be the year we returned to a post-COVID normal however the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many of us operate in our personal and work lives. Here is some of what we can expect in 2022:

Federal Election

The Federal election will be held between March and May 2022. Annoying text messages, robo messages and advertising are on their way!

Federal Budget in March

The timing of the election will bring the Federal Budget forward to March 2022. It’s an election year; expect many of the productivity based tax concessions to be extended.

Lock-in digital gains

McKinsey & Company reports that consumer digital adoption rates accelerated dramatically during the pandemic.

  • Many sectors will lock in the digital gains they made. Some, however, will see a decline in digital sales as consumers are no longer forced to shop online – groceries for example.
  • To lock in the gains of digitalisation, consumers expect trust, end-to-end digital service (from start to after sales service), and an improved online experience.
  • Forced online adoption has changed the consumption habits of an older and wealthier portion of the market. The average age of online users in the McKinsey Global Sentiment Survey increased by around 3 years and spend around 4% more.
  • Coming off a lower base, developing nations have experienced a much higher growth in digital adoption than developed nations; evening out global access.

Going green

Business and consumers will be expected to be mindful of their carbon footprint. A wasteful process is likely to diminish consumer appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 support will roll back as states and territories reach vaccination targets.

 The National Plan, the road map out of COVID-19, does more than provide greater freedoms at 70% and 80% full vaccination rates, it withdraws the steady stream of Commonwealth financial support to individuals and business impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. We look at the impact and the support that remains in place.

For Individuals

The COVID-19 Disaster payment offered a lifeline to those who lost work because of lockdowns, particularly in the ACT, New South Wales, and Victoria where the Delta strain of the virus and long-term lockdowns had the greatest impact.

In late September, the Treasurer announced that the Disaster Payment will roll back as states and territories reach vaccination hurdles on the National Plan. Over $9 billion has been paid out to date on Disaster Payments and at 70% and 80% full adult vaccination, the disaster, apparently, is over.

At 70% full vaccination in your state or territory

In the first week a state or territory reaches 70% full adult vaccination, the automatic renewal that has been in place will end and individuals will need to reapply each week that a Commonwealth Hotspot remains in place to confirm their eligibility. The COVID-19 Disaster payment will not necessarily end, but anyone currently receiving the payment will need to reconfirm that they meet the eligibility criteria, including living or working in a Commonwealth declared hotspot.

Given that the time gap between 70% and 80% full vaccination might be as little as two weeks in some regions, the impact of the 70% restrictions might be a moot point.

At 80% full vaccination in your state or territory

In the first week a state or territory reaches 80% full adult vaccination, the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will phase out over a two week period before ending completely.

 

Those needing financial support will no longer be eligible for the disaster payment, regardless of whether a Commonwealth hotspot is in place, and instead will need to apply for another form of income support such as JobSeeker. Unlike the disaster payments, JobSeeker and most other income support payments are subject to income and assets tests.

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, for those who cannot work because they need to self-isolate or care or quarantine, or care for someone with COVID-19, will remain in place until 30 June 2022.

 

 

 

 

Support for business

Each state and territory manages lockdown and financial support to businesses impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures differently. The way in which support is withdrawn will depend on how support has been provided and the extent of Commonwealth support.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT Government has distributed grants to business jointly funded with the Commonwealth. The ACT COVID-19 Business Grant was recently extended with top-up grants of $10,000 for employing businesses and $3,750 for non-employing businesses distributed to previous grant recipients in industries impacted by continued lockdowns. Large businesses $2m to $5m received an additional top-up amount of between $10,000 and $30,000. The Tourism, Accommodation Provider, Arts, Events, Hospitality & Fitness Grants have also been topped up with grants between $5,000 and $25,000 to existing recipients and the grant has been expanded to the fitness/sports sector (more information will be available mid-October).

Lockdowns eased on 1 October and are scheduled to be lifted from 15 October, with a return to normal in early to mid December 2021 (see the pathway forward). While not specified, it is expected that grants will cease at this point and instead, directed into targeted industry specific initiatives (see the recovery plan).

New South Wales

The NSW JobSaver, which provides payments of up to 40% of weekly payroll, is jointly funded by the state and Commonwealth governments. From 13 September, businesses receiving JobSaver have been required to reconfirm their eligibility for the payment each fortnight including a 30% decline in turnover test and headcount test.

At 70% full adult vaccination (10 October 2021), JobSaver will reduce from 40% of weekly payroll to 30%. Then, at 80% full vaccination, the Commonwealth will withdraw funding. The NSW Government announced that it will continue to fund their portion of JobSaver up until 30 November 2021 (15% of payroll).

It is unclear at this stage of what the impact of the withdrawal of Commonwealth funding at 80% vaccination rates will mean to large tourism, hospitality, and recreation businesses.

The $1,500 fortnightly micro-business grant, will reduce to $750 per fortnight from 80% full vaccination and cease on 30 November 2021.

If you are uncertain how the easing of restrictions will impact on you and your workplace, see the roadmap.

Queensland

While not significantly impacted by local lockdowns, Queensland tourism is impacted by national and international border closures. A second round of Tourism and Hospitality Sector Hardship grants have been announced although no further details are currently available.

For businesses on the border with New South Wales, a hardship grant will become available if the closure remains in place until 14 October or longer with grants of $5,000 for employing entities and $1,000 for non-employing entities (see Business Queensland for details). To receive the grant, you must operate in a ‘border business zone’ and have received the COVID-19 Business Support Grant.

Pointedly, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has stated, “Governments must also hold up their end of the bargain and stick to the plan agreed at National Cabinet that will see restrictions ease and our borders open up as we reach our vaccination targets of 70 to 80 per cent.” The Queensland Government will be under significant pressure to open borders once vaccination rates reach 80% in December and prior to the school holiday period.

Victoria

The Victorian Government has distributed grants to business jointly funded with the Commonwealth. For many of these grants, funding has been topped up in line with lockdown extensions.

The small business hardship fund providing one-off grants of $20,000 for businesses that have suffered a 70% or more decline in turnover and were not eligible for other grants or funding, will reopen (see the BusinessVictoria website for details).

The Business Costs Assistance Program will provide automatic top-ups to existing recipients across October and into the first half of November (two fortnightly payments between 1-29 October on a rising scale). Businesses that remain closed or severely restricted between 70% and 80% double dose will receive an automatic payment for the period from 29 October to 13 November.

Licensed hospitality venue fund recipients will also receive weekly top-ups in October of between $5,000 and $20,000, stepped according to venue capacity. Between 70% and 80% double dose, payments for licensed premises in metropolitan Melbourne will be reduced by 25%, and in regional Victoria by 50%.

Victoria is not expected to reach the 70% vaccination target until the end of October, and 80% in early to mid-November. You can find Victoria’s broad road map here.

National

The National Plan stipulates that state and territory borders are to reopen at 80% double vaccination in that state or territory but this will depend on health advice at the time.

Generally, international borders will reopen in states and territories at 80% double vaccination with Australian and permanent residents able to quarantine at home for 7 days. Unvaccinated travellers will need to stay in hotel quarantine for 14 days. Commercial flights will also resume for vaccinated Australians with Australia expected to implement a ‘red light, green light’ system similar to the UK to designate safe countries.

For other regions such as South Australia and the Northern Territory, borders are expected to reopen at 80% double vaccination but with some nuances flagged. The Western Australian Government however has stated that it will announce an easing of border restrictions once an 80% double vaccination has been achieved for those over 12 years of age.

 

SME lending options

While there is likely to be an economic rebound when restrictions ease across the country, for many, a funding gap will remain between the assistance provided by Government grants and viable trading conditions.

The expanded SME recovery loan scheme took effect on 1 October 2021. Under the scheme, the Government will guarantee 80% of loan amounts to businesses that have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.

The lending terms, repayment, and interest rates are set by the lenders but cannot be backed by residential property, that is, if the Government is underwriting the loan, lenders cannot ask business owners to use their home as security. However, Directors guarantees are likely to be required.

Under the scheme, lenders can provide:

  • A repayment holiday of up to 24 months
  • Loans of up to $5m
  • Loan terms of up to 10 years, and
  • Secured and unsecured loans

The recovery loans can be used to refinance existing loans, purchase commercial property, purchase another business, or working capital. But, cannot be used to purchase residential property, financial products, lend to associated entities, or lease, rent, hire or hire purchase existing assets that are more than half way into their effective life.

The loan scheme is generally available to solvent businesses with a turnover of up to $250m, have an ABN, and a tax resident of Australia. Loans remain subject to lending conditions and generally the lenders will look to lend to viable businesses where it is clear that they can trade their way out of the impact of COVID-19 or the assets of the business make the break-up value attractive.

If you default on your loan, you cannot simply walk away from it. The Government is guaranteeing 80% of the lender’s risk not your debt. Director guarantees are still likely to be required and for many loans, it will be secured against a business asset. On the plus side, interest rates are very attractive right now and many of the lenders are providing a repayment holiday of up to 24 months and in some cases, existing debt can be bundled into the loan arrangements.

 

What happens to your superannuation when you die?

Superannuation is not like other assets as it is held in trust by the trustee of the superannuation fund.  When you die, it does not automatically form part of your estate but instead, is paid to your eligible beneficiaries by the fund trustee according to the rules of fund, superannuation law, and the death nomination you made. 

Death nominations

Most people have a death nomination in place to direct their superannuation to their nominated beneficiaries on their death. There are four types of death benefit nominations:

Binding death benefit nomination – Putting in place a binding death nomination will direct your superannuation to whoever you nominate. As long as that person is an eligible beneficiary, the trustee is bound by law to pay your superannuation to that person as soon as practicable after your death. Generally, death benefit nominations lapse after 3 years unless it is a non-lapsing binding death nomination.

Non-lapsing binding death benefit nomination – Non-lapsing binding death nominations, if permitted by your trust deed, remain in place unless the member cancels or replaces them. When you die, your super is directed to the person you nominate.

Non-binding death nomination – A non-binding death nomination is a guide for trustees as to who should receive your superannuation when you die but the trustee retains control over who the benefits are paid to. This might be the person you nominate but the trustees can use their discretion to pay the superannuation to someone else or to your estate.

Reversionary beneficiary – if you are taking an income stream from your superannuation at the time of your death (pension), the payments can revert to your nominated beneficiary at the time of your death and the pension will be automatically paid to that person. Only certain dependants can receive reversionary pensions, generally a spouse or child under 18 years.

If no death benefit nomination is in place – If you have not made a death benefit nomination, the trustees will decide who to pay your superannuation to according to state or territory laws. This will often be a financial dependant to the legal representative of your estate to then be distributed according to your Will.

Is your death benefit valid?

There have been a number of court cases over the years that have successfully contested the validity of death nominations, particularly within self managed superannuation funds. For a death nomination to be valid it must be in writing, signed and dated by you, and witnessed. The wording of your nomination also needs to be clear and legally binding. If you nominate a person, ensure you use their legal name and if the superannuation is to be directed to your estate, ensure the wording uses the correct legal terminology.

Who can receive your superannuation?

Your superannuation can be paid to a SIS dependant, your legal representative (for example, the executor of your will), or someone who has an interdependency relationship with you.

A dependant is defined in superannuation law as ‘the spouse of the person, any child of the person and any person with whom the person has an interdependency relationship’. An interdependency relationship is where someone depends on you for financial support or care.

Do beneficiaries pay tax on you superannuation?

Whether or not the beneficiaries of your superannuation pay tax depends on who the superannuation was paid to and how. If your superannuation is paid as a lump sum to a tax dependant, the superannuation is tax-free. The tax laws have a different definition of who is a dependant to the superannuation laws. A tax dependant for tax purposes is your spouse or former spouse, your child under the age of 18, or someone you have an interdependency relationship with. Special rules exist if you are a police officer, member of the defence force or protective service officer who died in the line of duty.

If your superannuation is paid to your estate, the tax laws use a ‘look through’ approach when superannuation death benefits are distributed to the deceased’s legal representative. This involves determining whether the final recipient of the superannuation is a dependant or a non-dependant of the deceased.

If the person is not a dependant for tax purposes, for example an adult child, then there might be tax to pay.

Recruiting new employees? The 1 November superannuation rule changes

When your business hires a new employee, the Choice of Fund form is used to identify where they want their superannuation to be directed. If the employee does not identify a fund, generally the employer directs their superannuation into a default fund.

From 1 November 2021, where an employee does not identify a fund, the employer is required to contact the ATO and request details of the employee’s existing superannuation fund or ‘stapled’ fund (the fund stapled to them). The request is made through the ATO’s online services through the ‘Employee Commencement Form’.

If the ATO confirms no other fund exists for the employee, contributions can be directed to the employer’s default fund or a fund specified under a workplace determination or an enterprise agreement (if the determination was made before 1 January 2021).