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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.