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The Fringe Benefit Tax traps

The Fringe Benefits Tax year (FBT) ends on 31 March. We explore the problem areas likely to attract the ATO’s attention.

Electric vehicles causing sparks

In late 2022, the Government introduced a concession that enables employers to provide some electric vehicles to employees without incurring the 47% fringe benefits tax (FBT) on private use.

The exemption applies to the use of electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell electric cars or plug-in hybrid electric cars if:

· The value of the car is below the luxury car tax (LCT) threshold for fuel efficient vehicles ($89,332 for 2023-24 financial year) at the time it is first sold in a retail sale; and

· The car is both first held and used on or after 1 July 2022.

If your business is planning on acquiring an electric vehicle, be aware that from 31 March 2025, the FBT exemption will no longer apply to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles unless the vehicle met the conditions for the exemption before this date and there is already a binding agreement to continue to use the vehicle privately after this date.

The problem areas

The exemption only applies to employees – For the FBT exemption to apply, the vehicle needs to be supplied by the employer to an employee (including under a salary sacrifice agreement). Partners of a partnership and sole traders are not employees and cannot access the exemption personally.

If LCT applies to the car it will never qualify for the FBT exemption. For example, if the EV failed the eligibility criteria in 2022-23 when it was first purchased because it was above the luxury car limit of $84,916, the fact that it resold in 2023-24 for $50,000 does not make it eligible for the exemption on resale. Likewise, if the car was used by anyone (including a previous owner) before 1 July 2022 then it will probably never qualify for the FBT exemption.

Home charging stations are not included in the exemption. The FBT exemption includes associated benefits such as registration, insurance, repairs or maintenance, but it does not include a charging station at the employee’s home. If the employer instals a home charging station at the employee’s home or pays for the cost, then this is a separate fringe benefit.

FBT might not apply but you do the paperwork as if it did. While the FBT exemption on EVs applies to employers, the value of the fringe benefit is still taken into account when working out the reportable fringe benefits of the employee. That is, the value of the benefit is reported on the employee’s income statement. While you don’t pay income tax on reportable fringe benefits, it is used to determine your adjusted taxable

income for a range of areas such as the Medicare levy surcharge, private health insurance rebate, employee share scheme reduction, and certain social security payments.

What about the cost of electricity? The ATO’s short-cut method can potentially be applied to calculate reportable fringe benefit amounts and applies a rate of 4.20 cents per kilometre. If you are not using the short-cut method, you need to have a viable method of isolating and calculating the electricity consumption of the car.

The exemption does not apply if the employee directly purchases or leases the EV. If an employee purchases or leases the EV directly, and the employer reimburses them under a salary sacrifice arrangement, the FBT exemption does not apply because this is not a car fringe benefit. However, the exemption can potentially apply to novated lease arrangements if they are structured carefully.

Not all electric vehicles are cars. To qualify for the exemption, the EV needs to be a car – electric bikes and scooters do not count, nor do vehicles designed to carry a load of 1 tonne or more or that carry 9 passengers or more.

Other FBT problem areas

Not registering. If you have employees, it is unusual not to provide at least some fringe benefits. If your business is not registered for FBT but you have provided entertainment, salary sacrifice arrangements, forgiven debts, paid for or reimbursed private expenses, or have provided accommodation or living away from home allowances, it’s important that the FBT position is reviewed carefully. The ATO targets businesses that aren’t registered for FBT.

When employees travel. There has been a renewed focus recently on whether employees are travelling in the course of performing their work (deductible and not subject to FBT) or travelling from home to their place of work (not deductible and subject to FBT). The Federal Court decision in the Bechtel Australia case is a good example. The case dealt with the travel of fly-in-fly-out workers between home and their worksite – involving flights, ferry and bus travel. The Court found that the employees were travelling before they commenced their shift and that the employer was liable for FBT in connection with the transport that was provided. The case highlights the need for employers to ensure that they are fully aware of the connection between work and travel.

 

 

The ATO Debt Dilemma

Late last year, thousands of taxpayers and their agents were advised by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) that they had an outstanding historical tax debt. The only problem was, many had no idea that the tax debt existed.

The ATO can only release a taxpayer from a tax debt in limited situations (e.g., where payment would result in serious hardship). However, sometimes the ATO will decide not to pursue a debt because it isn’t economical to do so. In these cases, the debt is placed “on hold”, but it isn’t extinguished and can be re-raised on the taxpayer’s account at a future time. For example, these debts are often offset against refunds that the taxpayer might be entitled to. However, during COVID, the ATO stopped offsetting debts and these amounts were not deducted.

In 2023, the Australian National Audit Office advised the ATO that excluding debt from being offset was inconsistent with the law, regardless of when the debt arose. And by this stage, the ATO’s collectible debt had increased by 89% over the four years to 30 June 2023.

The response by the ATO was to contact thousands of taxpayers and their agents advising of historical debts that were “on hold” and advising that the debt would be offset against any future refunds. These historical debts were often across many years, some prior to 2017, and ranged from a few cents to thousands of dollars. For many, the notification from the ATO was the first inkling they had of the debt, because debts on hold are not shown in account balances as they have been made “inactive”. In other words, taxpayers were accruing debt but did not know as the debts were effectively invisible because they were noted as “inactive.”

In a recent statement, the ATO said: “The ATO has paused all action in relation to debts placed on hold prior to 2017 whilst we review and develop a pragmatic and sensible way forward that takes into account concerns raised by the community.

It was never our intention to cause frustration or concern. It’s important to us that taxpayers have trust in our tax system and our records.”

For any taxpayer with a debt on hold, it is important to remember that just because the ATO might not be actively pursuing recovery of the debt, this doesn’t mean that it has been extinguished.

Small business tax debt blows out

Out of the $50bn in collectible debt owing to the ATO, two thirds is owed by small business. As of July 2023, the ATO moved back to its “business as usual” debt collection practices. For entities with debts above $100,000 that have not entered into debt repayment terms with the ATO, the debt will be disclosed to credit reporting agencies.

If your business has an outstanding tax debt, it is important to engage with the ATO about this debt. Hoping the problem just goes away will normally make things worse.

 

How to take advantage of the 1 July super cap increase

From 1 July 2024, the amount you can contribute to super will increase. We show you how to take advantage of the change.

The amount you can contribute to superannuation will increase on 1 July 2024 from $27,500 to $30,000 for concessional super contributions and from $110,000 to $120,000 for non-concessional contributions.

The contribution caps are indexed to wages growth based on the prior year December quarter’s average weekly ordinary times earnings (AWOTE). Growth in wages was large enough to trigger the first increase in the contribution caps in 3 years.

Other areas impacted by indexation include:

· The Government super co-contribution – Income threshold

· The super guarantee maximum contribution base (the limit for compulsory super guarantee payments)

· The tax-free thresholds for redundancy payments

· The CGT contribution cap (amount that can be contributed to super following the sale of eligible business assets)

For those with the disposable income to contribute, superannuation can be very attractive with a 15% tax rate on concessional super contributions and potentially tax-free withdrawals when you retire. For business owners who might have had an exceptional year or sold their business, it’s an opportunity to get more into super. However, the timing of contributions will be important to maximise outcomes.

If you know you will have a capital gains tax liability in a particular year, you may be able to use ‘catch up’ contributions to make a larger than usual contribution and use the tax deduction to help offset your capital gain tax bill. But, this strategy will only work if you meet the eligibility criteria to make catch up contributions and you lodge a Notice of intent to claim or vary a deduction for personal super contributions, with your super fund.

Using the bring forward rule

The bring forward rule enables you to bring forward up to 2 years’ worth of future non-concessional contributions into the year you make the contribution – this is assuming your total superannuation balance enables you to make the contribution and you are under age 75.

If you utilise the bring forward rule before 30 June, the maximum that can be contributed is $330,000. However, if you wait to trigger the bring forward until on or after 1 July, then the maximum that can be contributed under this rule is $360,000.

‘Catch up’ contributions

If your super balance is below $500,000 on the prior 30 June, and you want to quickly increase the amount you hold in super, you can utilise any unused concessional super contributions amounts from the last 5 years.

Let’s look at the example of Gary who has only been using $15,000 of his concessional super cap for the last few years. Gary’s super balance at 30 June 2023 was $300,000, so he is well within the limit to make catch up contributions.

Gary could access his $27,500 concessional cap for 2023-24 plus the unused $55,000 from the prior 5 financial years.

If Gary doesn’t access the unused amounts from 2018-19 by 30 June 2024, the $10,000 will no longer be available.

Transfer balance cap unchanged

The general rate for the transfer balance cap (TBC), that limits how much money you can transfer into a tax-free retirement account, will remain at $1.9 million for 2024-25. The TBC is indexed by the December consumer price index (CPI) each year.

 

Revised stage 3 tax cuts confirmed for 1 July

The revised stage 3 tax cuts have passed Parliament and will come into effect on 1 July 2024.

Before the new tax rates come into effect, check any salary sacrifice agreements to ensure that they will continue to produce the result you are after.

Resident individuals

Non-Resident individuals

Working holiday markers

 

Getting back what you put in: Loans to get a business started

It’s not uncommon for business owners to pour their money into a business to get it up and running and to sustain it until it can survive on its own. A recent case highlights the dangers of taking money out of a company without carefully considering the tax implications.

A case before the Administrate Appeals Tribunal (AAT) was a loss for a taxpayer who blurred the lines between his private expenses and those of his company.

The taxpayer was a shareholder and director of a private company that operated a business. Over a number of years, he made withdrawals and paid personal private expenses out of the company bank account, but the amounts were not recognised as assessable income.

Following an audit, the ATO assessed the withdrawals and payments as either:

· Ordinary income assessable to the taxpayer, or

· Deemed dividends under Division 7A.

Division 7A contains rules aimed at situations where a private company provides benefits to shareholders or their associates in the form of a loan, payment or by forgiving a debt. If Division 7A is triggered, then the recipient of the benefit is taken to have received a deemed unfranked dividend for tax purposes.

The taxpayer tried to convince the AAT that the withdrawals were repayments of loans originally advanced by him to the company and therefore should not be assessable as ordinary income. Alternatively, he argued that the payments were a loan to him and there was no deemed dividend under Division 7A because the company did not have any “distributable surplus” (a technical concept which limits the deemed dividend under Division 7A).

The AAT found issues with the quality of the taxpayer’s evidence, concluding that he failed to prove that the ATO’s assessment was excessive. This was based on a number of factors, including:

· The taxpayer produced a number of different iterations of his financial affairs and tax return.

· He could not satisfactorily explain how he was able to fund the original loans to the company, especially given he had declared tax losses in multiple years around the time when the loans were made.

While the taxpayer had tried to explain that some of his loans to the company were sourced originally from borrowings from his brother, the AAT considered this was implausible given the brother’s own tax return showed modest income.

So, how should a contribution from a company owner to get a business up and running be treated? It really depends on the situation, but for small start-ups, the common avenues are:

· Structure the contribution you make as a loan to the company, or

· Arrange for the company to issue shares, with the amounts paid being treated as share capital.

In making a decision on which is the best approach, it is necessary to consider a range of factors, including commercial issues, the ease of withdrawing funds from the company later and regulatory requirements.

The way you put money into the company also impacts on the options that are available to subsequently withdraw funds from the company. However, the key issue to remember is that if you take funds out of a company then there will probably be some tax implications that need to be carefully managed.

 

 

 

Stage 3 personal income tax cuts redesigned 

The personal income tax cuts legislated to commence on 1 July 2024 will be realigned and redistributed under a proposal released by the Federal Government. 

After much speculation, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government will amend the legislated Stage 3 tax cuts scheduled to commence on 1 July 2024. Relative to the current Stage 3 plan, the proposed redesign will broaden the benefits of the tax cut by focussing on individuals with taxable income below $150,000. If enacted, an additional 2.9 million Australian taxpayers are estimated to take home more in their pay packet from 1 July. 

It’s not how Stage 3 of the 5 year plan to restructure the personal income tax system was supposed to work, but a sharp escalation in the cost of living has reshaped community sentiment. As the Prime Minister said, “we are focussed on the here and now” and by default, not on long term structural change.  

The redesign will increase Government revenues from personal income tax by an estimated $28 billion to 2034-35 as bracket creep takes its toll.    

What will change? 

The revised tax cuts redistribute the reforms to benefit lower income households that have been disproportionately impacted by cost of living pressures. 

Under the proposed redesign, all resident taxpayers with taxable income under $146,486, who would actually have an income tax liability, will receive a larger tax cut compared with the existing Stage 3 plan. For example: 

  • An individual with taxable income of $40,000 will receive a tax cut of $654, in contrast to receiving no tax cut under the current Stage 3 plan (but they are likely to have benefited from the tax cuts at Stage 1 and Stage 2).  
  • An individual with taxable income of $100,000 would receive a tax cut of $2,179, which is $804 more than under the current Stage 3 plan.  

However, an individual earning $200,000 will have the benefit of the Stage 3 plan slashed to around half of what was expected from $9,075 to $4,529. There is still a benefit compared with current tax rates, just not as much. 

There is additional relief for low-income earners with the Medicare Levy low-income threshold increasing by 7.1% in line with inflation. It is expected that an individual will not start paying the Medicare Levy until their income reaches $26,000 and will not pay the full 2% until $32,500 (for singles). 

While the proposed redesign is intended to be broadly revenue neutral compared with the existing budgeted Stage 3 plan, it will cost around $1bn more over the next four years before bracket creep starts to diminish the gains. 

It’s not a sure thing yet! 

The Government will need to quickly enact amending legislation to make the redesigned Stage 3 tax cuts a reality by 1 July 2024. This will involve garnering the support of the independents or minor parties to secure its passage through Parliament – Parliament sits from 6 February 2024. 

How did we get here? 

First announced in the 2018-19 Federal Budget, the personal income tax plan was designed to address the very real issue of ‘bracket creep’ – tax rates not keeping pace with growth in wages and increasing the tax paid by individuals over time. The three point plan sought to restructure the personal income tax rates by simplifying the tax thresholds and rates, reducing the tax burden on many individuals and bringing Australia into line with some of our neighbours (i.e., New Zealand’s top marginal tax rate is 39% applying to incomes above $180,000). 

The three point plan introduced incremental changes from 1 July 2018 and 1 July 2020, with stage 3 legislated to take effect from 1 July 2024.  

What now? 

If you have any concerns about the impact of the proposed changes, please call us to discuss. 

For tax planning purposes, for those with taxable income of $150,000 or more, the redesigned Stage 3 tax cuts offer less planning opportunity than the current plan. But, any change in the tax rates is an opportunity to review and reset to ensure you are taking advantage of the opportunities available, and not paying more than you need. 

 

Can my SMSF invest in property development? 

Australians love property and the lure of a 15% preferential tax rate on income during the accumulation phase, and potentially no tax during retirement, is a strong incentive for many SMSF trustees to dream of large returns from property development. We look at the pros, cons, and problems that often occur. 

An SMSF can invest in property development if trustees ensure the investment complies with the rules. And, there are a lot of rules. A key is the sole purpose test. Trustees need to ensure the fund is maintained to provide benefits for retirement, ill health or death​. Breaches of this fundamental tenet are serious and include the loss of the fund’s concessional tax treatment and civil and criminal penalties.  

By its nature property development is high risk and fund trustees need to ensure that the SMSF is not simply a handy cash-cow for a pipe dream, particularly when the developers are related parties. 

There are multiple ways an SMSF can invest in property development if the investment strategy of the fund allows: 

  • Directly developing property 
  • An ungeared unit trust or company (the parties can be related) 
  • Investment in an unrelated entity  
  • A joint venture 


Directly developing property from fund assets
 

An SMSF can purchase land from an unrelated party and develop the property in its own right. Common issues that often arise include: 

Acquiring the land from a related party – An SMSF cannot purchase land from a related party (unless it is business real property used wholly and exclusively in a business). This means that the lovely block of land inherited by one of the members, or owned by a family trust, that is perfect for development cannot be purchased by the SMSF.  

An SMSF cannot borrow to develop property – An SMSF can borrow money to purchase land using a limited recourse borrowing arrangement but it cannot use a loan to improve the asset. That is, borrowings cannot be used to develop the land. And, where the SMSF has borrowed to purchase land, it cannot change the nature of that asset until the loan has been repaid. That is, no development.  

Who will develop the property? – Problems often occur when the property developers are related to the fund members. Whilst it is possible to engage a related party builder to undertake the work, there are strict rules that mean that the work and materials must be acquired at market value. That is, there is no advantage from “mates rates”. If you are using a related party builder, ensure that the paperwork is pristine, any transactions are at market value, and all interactions are documented. 

GST might apply – Goods and services tax might apply to the development and the sale of any developed property. If the ATO considers that an SMSF is in the business of developing property or is undertaking a one-off development in a commercial manner then GST could potentially apply. 

If your SMSF is not undertaking a property development project in its own right, there are a few ways for an SMSF to invest in property development projects: 


Related ungeared trust or company
 

An ungeared company or trust is often used (under SIS Regulation, section 13.22C) when related parties want to invest in a property development together. The SMSF can invest in a company or trust that is undertaking a property development as long as the company or trust: 

  • Does not lease to a related party (unless business real property) 
  • Does not borrow money or have borrowings (must be ungeared)  
  • Does not conduct a business 
  • Conducts any dealings at arm’s length 
  • And, the assets of the unit trust or company:  
  • Do not include an interest in another entity (i.e., cannot have shares in a company) 
  • Do not have a charge over them (i.e., mortgage over any asset) 
  • Are not purchased from a related party (or was ever an asset of a related party) unless the asset is business real property acquired at market rates. 

See section 13.22C for full details. 

Profits from the company or trust are then distributed to the SMSF according to its share. 

Using the provisions of 13.22C means that the SMSF can invest in property development with a related party without the development being considered an in-house asset. However, if the criteria are not met (at any point), the in-house asset rules apply, and the SMSF might have to sell the units in the trust or shares in the company to return to the maximum 5% in-house asset limit. Generally, this means the sale of the underlying property or a significant restructure. 

Problems arise with 13.22C arrangements where the trust or company: 

  • Needs more money to complete the development and borrows money, or issues more units and sells them (is in business) 
  • Accepts a loan from a member of the SMSF 
  • Overdrafts (may be considered loans and breach 13.22C) 
  • Uses a related party builder who either under charges for the work completed or overcharges and strips the profits that should have been returned to the SMSF. 


Warning on conducting a business
 

One of the criteria for the exemption in 13.22C to apply is that the trust or company cannot be conducting a business. This requirement may prevent short-term property developments that are built and sold for profit.  

Typically, 13.22C arrangements are used for long term investments where the development enables the creation of an asset that is then leased by the trust or company. This could be commercial premises leased to a related or unrelated party (e.g., premises for a child care centre or manufacturing), or residential premises leased to unrelated parties (e.g., townhouses or small developments). 

 

Unrelated property developments 

Investing in unrelated entities for a property development is attractive as there is no limit to how much of the fund’s assets can be invested (subject to the investment strategy and trust deed allowing the investment), and unlike ungeared entities, the entity is able to borrow money/place charge over the assets. 

Where related parties are investing in the same entity, there are rules governing the percentage of ownership the SMSF and their related parties can hold. To meet the definition of unrelated entity for in-house asset purposes, the SMSF and their related parties must not own more than 50% of the units available. This is because the SMSF cannot control or hold sufficient influence over the entity and remain an unrelated entity. If the ATO considers the entity is related to the SMSF, then it would become a related party and the investment an in-house asset. 


Joint venture arrangements
 

An SMSF can potentially invest in a joint venture (JV) property development, but the criteria are necessarily strict and there are a range of issues that need to be considered carefully. One of the issues that needs to be considered up-front is determining the substance of the arrangement between the parties, because the term JV can be used to describe a variety of arrangements. The ATO confirms that care must be taken to ensure that arrangements with related parties are true JVs. 

Under a JV, the SMSF invests in and has a share of the property being developed (not the entity undertaking the development). Each party bears the costs (time and/or money) of the JV and receives this same proportionate contribution from the returns. If the arrangement is not structured properly then the SMSF’s stake in the JV could be treated as an investment in or loan to a related party and be treated as an in-house asset. For example, this could be the case if the SMSF only provides a capital outlay for the arrangement and has no rights other than a contractual right to a return on the final investment. 

It is also necessary to consider whether the arrangement between the parties could be treated as a partnership for tax, GST and legal purposes. For example, this could be the case if the arrangement involves the sharing of income, sale proceeds or profits, rather than sharing the output from the project. 

It’s essential to get advice well in advance – tax, legal and financial – before pursuing a JV. 


Is your SMSF the best vehicle for property development?
 

Trustees need to carefully consider any investment decisions and have a sound rationale for the investment.  

Any advice on a property development needs to be from a licenced financial adviser. A lawyer should be used for any contracts or agreements between parties. And, compliance assistance from a qualified accountant.  

 

 

Contractor or employee? 

Just because an agreement states that a worker is an independent contractor, this does not mean that they are a contractor for tax and superannuation purposes, new guidance from the ATO warns.  

Where there is a written contract, the rights and obligations of the contract need to support that an independent contracting relationship exists. The fact that a contractor has an ABN does not necessarily mean that they have genuinely been engaged as a contractor. The ATO says that “at its core, the distinction between an employee and an independent contractor is that: 

  • an employee serves in the business of an employer, performing their work as a part of that business 
  • an independent contractor provides services to a principal’s business, but the contractor does so in furthering their own business enterprise; they carry out the work as principal of their own business, not part of another.” 

Contracts over time 

The ATO points out that a contracting agreement at the start of a relationship may not continue to be one over time. For example, if the project the contractor was engaged to complete has finished, but the worker continues working for the company then the classification needs to be revisited. 

What happens if there is no contract? 

If no contract exists, then it’s important to look at the form and substance of the relationship to come to a reasonable position about whether an employment or contractor relationship exists. 

The problem when the evidence doesn’t match what the taxpayer tells the ATO 

A recent case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) highlights the importance of ensuring that the evidence supports the tax position you are taking.  

The case involves heritage farmland originally purchased for $1.6m that sold 7 years later for $4.25m and the GST debt that the ATO is now pursuing on the sale. 

In 2013, the taxpayer purchased Sutton Farms in Western Australia – 1.47 hectares consisting of an uninhabitable homestead, large barn and quarters. 

Over the course of 7 years, the taxpayer rezoned the property, obtaining conditional subdivision approval to subdivide the property into four lots with plans for a further subdivision into approximately 15 lots, as well as undertaking sewerage, water and electrical works.  The work was supported by a $1m loan from a bank and a further $1.5m from his brother-in-law. 

While the property was never used for this purpose, the taxpayer’s stated intention was to use the property as their home, gift the subdivided lots to his daughter and son for use as their own respective residences, and use the last subdivided lot as a memorial dedicated to another child who had passed away.  

Without being subdivided, the property was eventually sold at a profit as a single lot in 2020 for $4.25m. 

When the ATO audited the transaction and issued an assessment notice for GST on the sale transaction, the taxpayer objected. The taxpayer’s argument was that Sutton Farms was intended to be used as a family home and the subdivision application had no commercial purpose.  Therefore, GST should not apply as the sale was not made in the course of an enterprise. However, there were a number of factors and inconsistencies working against the taxpayer’s argument: 

  • Local media articles that outlined the taxpayer’s plan to commercialise the property, “with the plans to lease it out as a restaurant, wine bar or coffee house, turn the barn into an art studio and add 8 – 10 finger jetties in the canal adjacent.”  
  • Statements made to the ATO during the objection stage of the dispute indicating that the taxpayer intended to subdivide the property to sell some of these lots to repay loans owed to the taxpayer’s brother-in-law; and  
  • GST credits were claimed on the original development costs. The taxpayer’s accountant also made representations to the ATO stating that the GST credits were claimed because the intended subdivision and sale of the several lots within the property amounted to an enterprise. 

The problem for the taxpayer is that although he did not develop the property in the way he originally intended and ended up selling the property as one lot, through the ownership period he acted as if the project was a commercial venture with a stated commercial outcome.  

The importance of objective evidence 

Determining the tax treatment of a property transaction can sometimes be a difficult exercise and there are a number of factors that need to be considered. This will often include the intention or purpose of the taxpayer when acquiring a property. However, merely stating your intention isn’t enough, it needs to be supported by objective evidence. This might include loan terms, correspondence with advisers and real estate agents, the way expenses have been accounted for, or the conversation you have with a journalist. 

 

 

 

 

The controversial case of the taxpayer who claimed a loss on their home  

A decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has the tax world in a flurry after the Tribunal found in favour of a taxpayer who sold the apartment she lived in for a loss, then claimed the $265,935 loss in her tax return as a deduction.

In this case, the taxpayer successfully argued that the purchase and sale of the apartment was a short-term profit making venture and that the loss generated from this could be claimed as a tax deduction. The tax rules generally allow you to deduct losses that relate to a commercial activity, although you cannot claim the loss if it is private or capital in nature. The taxpayer argued that she acquired the apartment in order to make a short-term profit and that the loss that was made on the sale should be deductible, even though she had lived in the property as her private residence across the ownership period. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO), as you can imagine, had a different point of view.

The facts of the case were:

  • July 2015 – The taxpayer lived in a large family home. When her husband passed away, she entered into an ‘off-the-plan’ contract to purchase an apartment intended to be completed by 30 June 2019.
  • December 2016 – The taxpayer was notified that completion of the off-the-plan apartment was delayed until 30 June 2020.
  • May 2018 – Taxpayer settles on the sale of her family home on advice from her real estate agent that it was a good time to sell.
  • May 2018 – Taxpayer settled on another apartment, as a purchaser, in the same complex that had been completed. She had money from the sale of her family home that she could use, and only intended to keep the property for a short period of time as she needed to use the funds to settle the off-the-plan apartment. Her position was that it was an opportunity to make a profit.
  • April 2020 – The taxpayer entered into a contract to sell the apartment at a loss during the first COVID lockdown.
  • July 2020 – Settlement on sale of the apartment occurred.
  • July 2020 – The purchase of the off-the-plan apartment completed and was settled. A substantial portion of the proceeds of the sale of the other apartment, and some of the proceeds of the sale of the family home, were used to settle the off-the-plan apartment.

The Tax Commissioner’s position was that someone approaching the opportunity in a business-like manner as a profit-making venture would not live in the apartment and would have waited to sell if the market was not favourable.

The Tribunal set a low bar for proof of a profit-making intention and found that the fact that the taxpayer lived in the property was secondary to her profit-making intent.

The reason why this case is controversial is not simply because of the loss claimed by one taxpayer. It is because of the broader implications to property owners if the ATO determines that a transaction is commercial in nature

and taxes any profit as ordinary income rather than under the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) provisions. For example, if the taxpayer in this case had made a profit instead of a loss, she would have paid tax on the profit at her marginal tax rate. She would not have been able to apply the main residence exemption or the CGT discount.

One of the important things to take from this case is that living in a property doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the sale of the property will be taxed under the CGT rules or will qualify for the main residence exemption. For example, property ‘flippers’ who buy and renovate a house may face a significant personal tax bill on any gain they make with no access to the concessions that exist within the CGT rules.

It will be some time before we know the full implications of this case and the ATO is yet to confirm whether it will appeal the decision. Either way, determining whether a transaction is taxed on revenue or capital account can be a complex process and it is important to seek advice before entering into transactions involving property.

 

 

 

Bah humbug: The Christmas tax dilemma

1. Keep team gifts spontaneous

$300 is the minor benefit threshold for FBT so anything at or above this level will mean that your Christmas generosity will result in a gift to the ATO at a rate of 47%. To qualify as a minor benefit, gifts also have to be ad hoc – no monthly gym memberships or giving one person multiple gift vouchers amounting to $300 or more.

Gifts of cash from the business are treated as salary and wages – PAYG withholding is triggered and the amount is normally subject to the superannuation guarantee.

Aside from the tax issues, think about what will be of value to your team. The most appreciated gift is the one that means something to the individual. Giving a bottle of wine to someone who doesn’t drink, chocolates to a

health fanatic, or time off to someone with excess leave, isn’t going to garner much in the way of goodwill. A sincere personal message will often have a greater impact than a generic gift.

2. The FBT Christmas party crunch

If you really want to avoid tax on your work Christmas party then host it in the office on a workday. This way, Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) 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 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 if you want to avoid paying FBT. The downside is that the business cannot claim deductions or GST credits for the expenses if there is no FBT payable in relation to the party.

If the party is held somewhere other than 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 potentially all be FBT-free. Just remember that the minor benefits exemption requires a number of factors to be considered, including the total value of associated benefits provided across the FBT year.

If entertainment is provided to employees and an FBT exemption applies, you will not be able to claim tax deductions 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 pay FBT but you can also claim a tax deduction and GST credits for the cost of the event. Just bear in mind that deductions are only useful to offset against tax. If your business is paying no or limited amounts of tax, a tax deduction is not going to help offset the cost of the party.

 

3. Avoid client lunches and give a gift

The most effective way of sharing the Christmas joy with customers is not necessarily the most tax effective. If, for example, you take your client out or entertain them in any way, it’s not tax deductible and you can’t claim back the GST. There are specific rules designed to prevent deductions and GST credits from being claimed when the expenses relate to entertainment, regardless of whether there is an expectation of generating goodwill and increased business sales. Restaurants, a show, golf, and corporate race days all fall into the ‘entertainment’ category.

However, if you send your customer a gift, then the gift is tax deductible as long as there is an expectation that the business will benefit (assuming the gift does not amount to entertainment). Even better, why don’t you deliver the gift yourself for your best customers and personally wish them a Merry Christmas. It will have a much bigger impact even if they are not available and the receptionist tells them you delivered the gift.

From a marketing perspective, if your budget is tight, it’s better to focus on the customers you believe deliver the most value to your business rather than spending a small amount on every customer regardless of value. If you are going to invest in Christmas gifts, then make it something people remember and appropriate to your business.

You could also make a donation on behalf of your customers (where your business takes the tax deduction) or for your customers (where they receive the tax deduction).

4. Charities love cash

Charities love cash. They don’t have to spend any of their precious resources to receive it – unlike a lot of charity dinners, auctions, and promotional campaigns. And, from a tax perspective, it’s the safest way to ensure that you or your business can claim a deduction for the full amount of the donation.

There are a few rules to giving to charities that make the difference between whether you will or won’t receive a tax deduction. The charity must be a deductible gift recipient (DGR). You can find the list of DGRs on the Australian Business Register (use the advanced search).

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. 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 who made the gift and whose name is on the receipt.

5. Christmas bonuses

If you are planning to provide your team with a cash bonus rather than a gift voucher or other item of property, then remember that this will be taxed in much the same way as salary and wages. A PAYG withholding obligation will be triggered and the ATO’s view is that the bonus will also be treated as ordinary time earnings (unless it relates specifically to overtime work) which means that it will be subject to the superannuation guarantee provisions.

The Christmas tax quick guide

Here’s our quick guide to the tax impact of Christmas celebrations. The information is for GST registered businesses that are not using the 50-50 split method for meal entertainment.

 

 

The key influences of 2024

Uncertainty has reigned over the last few years, but can we expect more consistency as we head into 2024? We explore some of the key issues and influences.

Inflation and labour supply

RBA Governor Michelle Bullock stated, “Inflation is past its peak and heading in the right direction, but it is likely to return to target a bit more slowly than we previously thought.” While there have been encouraging signs, uncertainty remains. Domestically, inflation is persistent, growth has slowed but the labour market remains tight. And, the Australian economy remains at risk with uncertainty over the Chinese economy and ongoing international conflicts. At this stage, the RBA have not ruled out further interest rate increases.

The unemployment rate remains at 3.7% and the labour market tight. Wages grew 1.3% for the September 2023 quarter and 4.0% over the year, pushing wages to a 14 year high. High-skilled workers are particularly difficult to source, and we appear to have reached a point now where employers are unwilling to pay inflated salaries to acquire those willing to move.

Income tax cuts and the end of some concessions

From 1 July 2024, the stage 3 tax cuts that radically simplify the personal income tax brackets come into effect. The tax cuts collapse the 32.5% and 37% tax brackets into a single 30% rate for those earning between $45,001 and $200,000 – this is assuming

the May Federal Budget does not postpone or scrap them!

The superannuation guarantee rate will rise again on 1 July 2024 to 11.5%.

For small and medium businesses with group turnover of less than $50m, a series of concessions are set to end or reduce back to conventional levels:

  • The Skills and Training Boost ends on 30 June 2024. The boost provides a bonus deduction equal to 20% of eligible expenditure for external training provided to your workers for costs incurred between 29 March 2022 and 30 June 2024.
  • The Small Business Energy Incentive is scheduled to end on 30 June 2024, although legislation to introduce this concession still hasn’t passed through Parliament. The incentive is intended to provide an additional 20% deduction on the cost of eligible depreciating assets that support electrification and more efficient use of energy.

The instant asset write-off for businesses with group turnover of less than $10m is due to reduce back to $1,000 from 1 July 2024. The cost threshold is meant to be $20,000 for the 2024 financial year, but legislation relating to this measure hasn’t passed through Parliament yet.

Worker rights and rewards

There have been a myriad of changes and enhancements to workplace laws across 2023 and employers can expect greater scrutiny in 2024:

  • A 5.75% increase in the minimum wage to $23.23 per hour from 1 July 2023.
  • New rules and a 2 year limit to some fixed term employment contracts (no renewing).
  • A landmark case that defined how to determine whether a worker is a contractor or employee. The ATO has followed through with new rulings to ensure employers are paying the correct entitlements. It’s essential that employers have assessed contractors to ensure that they are classified correctly.
  • Greater flexibility for unpaid parental leave.

 

Tax on super balances above $3m hits Parliament

Legislation enabling an extra 15% tax on earnings on super balances above $3m is before Parliament.

While not a concern for the average worker, if enacted, those with significant property or other illiquid assets in their superannuation fund are most at risk, for example farmers and business operators who own their business property in their self managed superannuation fund (SMSF).

The issue is how the tax is calculated. The tax captures the growth in the balance of a member’s superannuation over the financial year (allowing for contributions and withdrawals). It captures both:

  • Realised gains from the sale of assets, and
  • Unrealised gains triggered by an increase in the value of superannuation assets. For example, if the value of a property increases.

If the member’s total super balance has decreased – the loss can be offset against future years.

The ATO will calculate the tax each year. Members with balances in excess of $3 million will be tested for the first time on 30 June 2026, with the first notice of assessment expected to be issued to those impacted in the 2026-27 financial year.

If you are likely to be impacted by the impending new tax, it is important to speak to your financial adviser. While keeping assets within superannuation will remain the best option for many from a tax and planning perspective, it’s important to ensure that you’re in the best possible position.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

From all of the team, we want to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and happy Christmas. The year has gone quickly and has no doubt had its challenges. The holidays are an opportunity to take stock and revel in the spirit of the season.

We will look forward to working with you again in 2024 and making it the best possible year for you. We wish you and your family the warmest of Christmas wishes.

Office Closure

Our office will be closed for Christmas from midday 22 December 2023 and will reopen on 15 January 2024. If you urgently need to contact us over this time, please call 02 9560 3777.

 

 

 

Workers owed $3.6bn in super guarantee  

Workers are owed over $3.6 billion in superannuation guarantee according to the latest Australian Taxation Office estimates – a figure the Government and the regulators are looking to dramatically change.

Superficially, the statistics on employer superannuation guarantee (SG) compliance look pretty good with over 94%, or over $71 billion, collected without intervention from the regulators in 2020-21. 

The net gap in SG has also declined from a peak of 5.7% in 2015-16 to 5.1% in 2020-21. The COVID-19 stimulus measures helped drive up the voluntary contributions with the largest increase in 2019-20, which the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) says they “suspect reflects the link between payment of super contributions and pay as you go (PAYG) withholding by employers. PAYG withholding is linked to the ability to claim stimulus payments such as Cash Flow Boost.” 

Despite these gains, a little adds up to a lot and 5.1% equates to a $3.6 billion net gap in payments that should be in the superannuation funds of workers. Lurking within the amount owed is $1.8 billion of payments from hidden wages. That is, off-the-books cash payments, undisclosed wages, and non-payment of super where employees are misclassified as contractors.

In addition, the ATO notes that as at 28 February 2022, $1.1 billion of SG charge debt was subject to insolvency, which is unlikely to ever be recovered. Quarterly reporting enables debt to escalate before the ATO has a chance to identify and act on an emerging problem.  

Employers should not assume that the Government will tackle SG underpayments the same way they have in the past with compliance programs. Instead, technology and legislative change will do the work for them. 

Single touch payroll matched to super fund data

Single touch payroll (STP), the reporting mechanism employers must use to report payments to workers, provides a comprehensive, granular level of near-real time data to the regulators on income paid to employees. The ATO is now matching STP data to the information reported to them by superannuation funds to identify late payments, and under or incorrect reporting.

Late payment of quarterly superannuation guarantee is emerging as an area of concern with some employers missing payment deadlines, either because of cashflow difficulties (i.e., SG payments not put aside during the quarter), or technical issues where the timing of contributions is incorrect. Super guarantee needs to be received by the employee’s fund before the due date. Unless you are using the ATO’s superannuation clearing house, payments are unlikely to be received by the employee’s fund if the quarterly payment is made on the due date. The super guarantee laws do not have a tolerance for a ‘little bit’ late. Contributions are either on time, or they are not.

When SG is paid late

If an employer fails to meet the quarterly SG contribution deadline, they need to pay the SG charge (SGC) and lodge a Superannuation Guarantee Statement within a month of the late payment. The SGC applies even if you pay the outstanding SG soon after the deadline. The SGC is particularly painful for employers because it is comprised of:

  • The employee’s superannuation guarantee shortfall amount – i.e., the SG owing.
  • 10% interest p.a. on the SG owing for the quarter – calculated from the first day of the quarter until the 28th day after the SG was due, or the date the SG statement is lodged, whichever is later; and 
  • An administration fee of $20 for each employee with a shortfall per quarter. 

Unlike normal SG contributions, SGC amounts are not deductible, even if you pay the outstanding amount. 

And, the calculation for SGC is different to how you calculate SG. The SGC is calculated using the employee’s salary or wages rather than their ordinary time earnings (OTE). An employee’s salary and wages may be higher than their OTE, particularly if you have workers who are paid overtime. 

It’s important that employers that have made late SG payments lodge a superannuation guarantee statement quickly as interest accrues until the statement is lodged. The ATO can also apply penalties for late lodgment of a statement, or failing to provide a statement during an audit, of up to 200% of the SG charge. And, where an SG charge amount remains outstanding, a company director may become personally liable for a penalty equal to the unpaid amount.

The danger of misclassifying contractors

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 slightly differently and, in some cases, genuine contractors can be treated as if they were employees. There are significant penalties faced by employers that get it wrong.  

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 on your business; and
  • Chasing profit (that is, a return on risk) rather than simply accepting a payment for the time, skill and effort provided.

‘Payday’ super from 1 July 2026

The Government intends to introduce laws that will require employers to pay SG at the same, or similar time, as they pay employee salary and wages. The logic is that by increasing the frequency of SG contributions, employees will be around 1.5% better off by retirement, and there will be less opportunity for an SG liability to build up where the employer misses a deadline.

Originally announced in the 2023-24 Federal Budget, Treasury has released a consultation paper to start the process of making payday super a reality. Subject to the passage of the legislation, the reforms are scheduled to take effect from 1 July 2026.

What is proposed?

The consultation paper canvasses two options for the timing of SG payments: on the day salary and wages are paid; or a ‘due date’ model that requires contributions to be received by the employee’s superannuation fund within a certain number of days following ‘payday’. A ‘payday’ captures every payment to an employee with an OTE component.

The SGC would also be updated with interest accruing on late payments from ‘payday’. 

Currently, 62.6% of employers make SG payments quarterly, 32.7% monthly, and 3.8% fortnightly or weekly.  

We’ll bring you more on ‘payday’ super as details are released. For now, there is nothing you need to do.

 

 

Up to 10 years in prison for deliberate ‘wage theft’

Legislation currently being debated in Parliament will introduce a new criminal offence for intentional “wage theft”. If enacted, in addition to the criminal offence, a fine will apply. The fine is three times the underpayment and:

  • For individuals – 5,000 penalty units (currently $1,565,000).
  • For businesses – 25,000 penalty units (currently $7,825,000).

The reforms are not intended to capture unintentional mistakes and a compliance ‘safe harbour’ will be introduced by the Fair Work Ombudsman for small businesses.

In addition to addressing wage theft, the Bill also seeks to:

  • Replace the definition of a ‘casual employee’ and create a pathway to permanent work.
  • Change the test for ‘sham contracting’ from a test of ‘recklessness’ to ‘reasonableness.’
  • Bolster the powers of the Fair Work Commission including the ability to set minimum standards for ‘employee-like’ workers including those in the gig economy.
  • Introduce a new offence of “industrial manslaughter” in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The Bill introducing the reforms has been referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. The Committee is scheduled to report back in February 2024.

“Wage-theft” is illegal in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria under State laws. While the Federal Bill is not intended to interfere with State legislation, the impact of the interaction between the existing State legislation and the proposed Federal reforms is unclear.

Over the last two years, the Fair Work Ombudsman has recovered over $1 billion in back-payments, mostly from large corporates and universities. Court ordered penalties of $6.4 million were paid by employers across this same time period.

 

When trust distributions to a company are left unpaid

What happens when a trust appoints income to a private company beneficiary but does not actually make the payment? 

The tax treatment of this unpaid amount was at the centre of a recent case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that saw a taxpayer successfully challenge the ATO’s long held position (Bendel and Commissioner of Taxation [2023] AATA 3074). For many years, the ATO’s position has been that if a trust appoints income to a private company beneficiary but does not actually make the payment, this unpaid amount can be treated as a loan. Under Division 7A of the tax rules, these loans can be taxed as unfranked dividends unless they are managed using a complying loan agreement with annual principal and interest repayments. 

This AAT decision challenges an important ATO position, with the tax outcomes being potentially significant for trust clients that currently owe (or may have owed in the past) unpaid trust entitlements to related private companies.

But this is not the end of this story. On 26 October 2023, the Tax Commissioner lodged a notice of appeal to the Federal Court. There is no guarantee that the Federal Court will reach the same conclusion as the AAT. We will need to wait and see.

As the case progresses, we will let you know about the impact. 

 

Fixed-term employment contracts limited to
2 years

From 6 December 2023, employers can no longer employ an employee on a fixed-term contract that:

  • is for 2 or more years (including extensions)
  • may be extended more than once, or
  • is a new contract:
    • that is for the same or a substantially similar role as previous contracts
    • with substantial continuity of the employment relationship between the end of the previous contract and the new contract, and either:
  • the total period of the contracts is 2 or more years,
  • the new contract can be renewed or extended, or
  • a previous contract was extended.

The changes were introduced as part of the Pay secrecy, job ads and flexible work amendments. See the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website for more details.

 

 

30% tax on super earnings on balances above $3 million

Treasury has released draft legislation for consultation to enact the Government’s plan to increase the tax rate on earnings on superannuation balances above $3m from 15% to 30% from 1 July 2025. This is the final step before the legislation is introduced into Parliament.

From a planning perspective, for those with superannuation balances close to or above $3m, it will be important to explore the implications of your personal situation – there is no one size fits all strategy and what is best for you will depend on how a potentially wide array of factors impact on your individual scenario. 

 

When is food GST-free? 

Chobani plain yoghurt is GST-free but Chobani’s ‘flip’ range is taxable? A recent case before the AAT demonstrates how fine the dividing line is between GST-free and taxable foods.

Back in 2000 when the Goods & Services Tax (GST) was first introduced, basic food was excluded to secure the support of the Democrats for the new tax regime. Thirteen years later, the result of this exclusion is an unwieldy dividing line between GST-free and taxable foods that is consistently tested and altered. It is this dividing line that US yoghurt giant Chobani Pty Ltd recently tested in a case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

At the centre of the case was Chobani’s Flip Strawberry Shortcake flavoured yoghurt and whether the product, composed of a tub of strawberry flavoured yoghurt with a separate tub of baked cookie and white chocolate pieces, is subject to GST. If the two components were sold in isolation, the baked cookie pieces would be taxable and the yoghurt GST-free. 

Chobani had originally treated the flip yoghurt range as GST-free, relying on a 2001 GST ruling that allowed “a supply that appears to have more than one part but is essentially a supply of one thing” to be a composite supply. A product that is a composite supply could be treated as GST-free if the other components did not exceed the lesser of $3 or 20% of the overall product. In Chobani’s case, this meant that they could treat the flip yoghurt as GST-free. 

Then in 2021, the ATO advised Chobani that its position had changed and it intended to treat the flip yoghurt as a combination food and therefore taxable.

Under the GST system, ‘combination foods’ where at least one of the food components is taxable, are subject to GST. Lunch packs of tuna and crackers, for example, are a combination food and therefore GST applies to the whole product because it is intended that the tuna and crackers are eaten together. But, where the food is a ‘mixed supply’, where each item is separate from the other and not intended to be consumed together, the GST will apply (or not) to each individual product. An example would be a hamper.

In the Chobani case, the AAT found in favour of the Commissioner’s interpretation that the flip product was a combination food and therefore subject to GST on the whole product.

The outcome of the Chobani test case has a number of implications. The first is that the ATO has issued a new draft GST ruling on combination foods (GST 2023/D1) replacing the previous guidance. The guidance states that three principles apply when determining whether there is a supply of a combination food:

  • There must be at least one separately identifiable taxable food.
  • The separately identifiable taxable food must be sufficiently joined together with the overall product.
  • The separately identifiable taxable food must not be so integrated into the overall product, or be so insignificant within that product, that it has no effect on the essential character of that product.

The second implication is that at least one classification on the ATO’s GST status of major product lines list will change. Weirdly, dip (with biscuits, wrapped individually and packaged together), was listed as a mixed supply, not a combination food.

In a previous case, Birds Eye (Simplot Australia) was also unsuccessful in its appeal to the Federal Court that their frozen vegetable products that combined omelette, rice or grains were GST-free. The Court determined that the foods were either prepared meals or a combination of foods and therefore taxable.

For food manufacturers, importers and distributors, it is important to keep up to date with the changing GST landscape and ensure that you are utilising the correct classifications – it’s a moving feast!

 

Warning: Redrawing investment loans

The ATO estimates that incorrect reporting of rental property income and expenses is costing around $1 billion each year in forgone tax revenue. A big part of the problem is how taxpayers are claiming interest on their investment property loans. 

We’ve seen an uptick in ATO activity focussing on refinanced or redrawn loans. This activity is a result of a major data matching program of residential property loan data from financial institutions from 2021-22 to 2025-26. This data is being matched to what taxpayers have claimed on their tax returns. Those with anomalies can expect contact from the ATO to explain the discrepancy.

If you have an investment property loan and redraw on the loan for a different purpose to the original borrowing, the loan account becomes a mixed purpose account. Interest accruing on mixed purpose accounts need to be apportioned between each of the different purposes the money was used for. 

On the other hand, if the redrawn funds are used to produce investment income, then the interest on this portion of the loan should be deductible.

For example, if you have redrawn on the loan to pay for a private holiday, or pay down personal debt, then the interest relating to this portion of the loan balance is not deductible. Not only will the interest expenses need to be apportioned into deductible and non-deductible parts, but repayments will normally need to be apportioned too.

Withdrawals from an offset account are treated as savings rather than a new borrowing. If you have a loan account and an interest offset account is attached to this account that reduces the interest payable on the loan, withdrawing funds from the offset account will typically increase the amount of interest accruing on the loan, but won’t change the deductible percentage of the interest expenses. That is, when you withdraw funds from the offset account this is really a withdrawal of savings and won’t impact on the extent to which interest accruing on the loan account is deductible.

If you have a home loan that was used to acquire your private home and you have funds sitting in an offset account, withdrawing those funds to pay the deposit on a rental property won’t enable you to claim any of the interest accruing on the home loan. However, if you redraw funds from the home loan to acquire a rental property then interest accruing on this portion of the loan should be deductible. The tax treatment always depends on how the arrangement is structured.

Think you might have a problem? Contact us and we can investigate the issue before the ATO contact you.

 

 

 

$20k deduction for ‘electrifying’ your business

Electricity is the new black. Gas and other fossil fuels are out. A new, limited incentive nudges business towards energy efficiency. We show you how to maximise the deduction!

The small business energy incentive is the latest measure providing a bonus tax deduction to nudge the investment behaviour of small and medium businesses, this time towards more efficient energy use and electrification. Fossil fuels are out, gas is out, electricity is the name of the game.

Legislation before Parliament will see SMEs with an aggregated turnover of less than $50 million able to claim a bonus 20% tax deduction on up to $100,000 of their costs to improve energy efficiency in the business. But, the tax deduction is time limited. Assuming the legislation passes Parliament, you only have until 30 June 2024 to invest in new, or upgrade existing assets.

How much?

Your business can invest up to $100,000 in total, with a maximum bonus tax deduction of $20,000 per business entity. The energy incentive is not provided as a cash refund, it either reduces your taxable income or increases the tax loss for the 2024 income year.

What qualifies?

The energy incentive applies to both new assets and expenditure on upgrading existing assets. There is no specific list of assets that can qualify. Instead, the rules provide a series of eligibility criteria that need to be satisfied.

First, the expenditure incurred in relation to the asset must qualify for a deduction under another provision of the tax law.

If your business is acquiring a new depreciating asset, it must be first used or installed for any purpose, and a taxable purpose, between 1 July 2023 and 30 June 2024. If you are improving an existing asset, the expenditure must be incurred between 1 July 2023 and 30 June 2024.

If your business is acquiring a new depreciating asset the following additional conditions need to be satisfied:

  • The asset must use electricity; and
  • There is a new reasonably comparable asset that uses a fossil fuel available in the market; or
  • It is more energy efficient than the asset it is replacing; or
  • If it is not a replacement, it is more energy efficient than a new reasonably comparable asset available in the market; or
  • It is an energy storage, time-shifting or monitoring asset, or an asset that improves the energy efficiency of another asset.

If you are improving an existing asset the expenditure needs to satisfy at least one of the following conditions:

  • It enables the asset to only use electricity, or energy that is generated from a renewable source, instead of a fossil fuel;
  • It enables the asset to be more energy efficient, provided that asset only uses electricity, or energy generated from a renewable source; or
  • It facilitates the storage, time-shifting or usage monitoring of electricity, or energy generated from a renewable source.

What doesn’t qualify?

Certain kinds of assets and improvements are not eligible for the bonus deduction, including where the asset or improvement uses a fossil fuel. So, hybrids are out. Solar panels and motor vehicles are also excluded.

In addition, the following assets are specifically excluded from the rules:

  • Assets, and expenditure on assets, that can use a fossil fuel;
  • Assets, and expenditure on assets, which have the sole or predominant purpose of generating electricity (such as solar photovoltaic panels);
  • Capital works (such as buildings and structural improvements);
  • Motor vehicles (including hybrid and electric vehicles) and expenditure on motor vehicles;
  • Assets and expenditure on an asset where expenditure on the asset is allocated to a software development pool; and
  • Financing costs, including interest, payments in the nature of interest and expenses of borrowing.

What does qualify?

The legislation contains a few examples of what would qualify:

  • Electrifying heating and cooling systems
  • Upgrading to more efficient fridges and induction cooktops (for example replacing gas cook tops)
  • Installing batteries and heat pumps
  • Installing an electric reverse cycle air conditioner instead of a gas heater
  • Replacing a coffee machine with a more energy efficient coffee machine if the manufacturer’s electricity consumption information supports this – keep the documentation!
  • Thermal storage that can store heat or cold from a renewable source
  • Solar thermal hot water system (assuming it meets the other criteria)

The legislation to implement the energy incentive is before Parliament. We’ll keep you updated on its progress. If you intend to make a major outlay to take advantage of the bonus deduction, talk to us first just to make sure it qualifies.

 

 

The ‘Airbnb’ Tax

Property investors that choose to utilise their property for short-term stays (or leave it vacant) are firmly in the sights of the regulators.

The Victorian Government’s recent Housing Statement announced Australia’s first short-stay property tax. The additional tax, which is scheduled to come into effect from 1 January 2025, is expected to generate $70 million plus annually. The Short Stay Levy will be set at 7.5% of the short stay accommodation platforms’ revenue – so, a few days in Melbourne at $850 will cost an extra $63.75 taking the stay to $913.75.

According to the statement there are more than 36,000 short stay accommodation places – with almost half of these in regional Victoria. More than 29,000 of those places are entire homes.

Airbnb’s ANZ Country Manager Susan Wheeldon however says that “short-term rentals in Victoria make up less than one percent of total housing stock. Acute housing issues existed long before the founding of Airbnb, and targeting these properties is not a long term solution.”

Property investors are now braced for an onslaught of similar taxes at either the local Government or State level.

For Victorian investment property owners this comes after a temporary land tax surcharge from the 2024 land tax year and for those keeping a property vacant, an increase to the absentee owner surcharge rate from 2% to 4% including a reduction in the tax-free threshold from $300,000 to $50,000 (for non-trust absentee owners).

Some local Government taxes on Airbnb style accommodation will be removed once the new tax comes into effect.

Some Councils already impose a surcharge on short stay accommodation. Brisbane City Council for example imposed a 50% rate surcharge on properties listed for short-term rental for more than 60 days a year in their 2022-23 Budget, only to increase it to 65% in 2023-24.

What happens overseas?

Bed taxes in some form are not uncommon internationally but it is unusual to isolate one form of tourist accommodation from another as the Victorian Government have chosen to do. Also unusual is the 7.5% rate – many local taxes on short stay accommodation are in the 5% range (despite California’s Transient Occupancy Tax of up to 15% depending on the region you are staying).

Globally, the idea of taxing vacant and short-term accommodation is also not new.

In British Columbia, the Underused Housing Tax – a 1% tax on the ownership of vacant or underused housing introduced from 1 January 2022 – has been credited with increasing the rental stock by up to 20,000 properties.

Taking the alternative route to freeing up rental stock, New York introduced new rules in September 2023 that severely restrict Airbnb style accommodation options. Hosts need to register with the city if they offer accommodation for less than 30 consecutive days (unless their building is exempt as a hotel or accommodation establishment). Under the new rules the host must permanently reside in the property – entire properties will no longer be available – and, only two guests are allowed. The platforms are responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the new rules.

New York is not alone in curbing the rise of short-term rentals. Amsterdam, Paris and San Francisco limit the number of days in a year an entire residence can be listed – between 30 and 90 days.

Closer to home in Byron Bay, the Byron Bay Council will limit “non hosted holiday letting to 60 days per year for most of the Shire” from 23 September 2024.

But do restrictions on Airbnb create rental stock?

According to Professor Nicole Gurran, from the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning, if Australia is serious about controlling short-term rentals to solve Australia’s long-term rental crisis, then more needs to be done.

“In comparison to much of the international regulation of the short-term rental market, Australia is very “light touch”. The overarching aim is to encourage the tourism economy.

While this might have been appropriate five years ago when the rental market was in better shape, and long-term housing demand focused on inner city areas, the current crisis demands a new approach. Regulations must be tailored to the conditions of local housing markets, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach that exists today,” Professor Gurran says.

In a 2017 study, Professor Gurran and Professor Peter Phibbs found that, Airbnb absorbed 7% of stock in one Sydney municipality.

So, where is all this going? Governments are unlikely not to take advantage of the opportunity to share in what has become a lucrative short-term rental market. What that looks like will really depend on the States and Territories. Beyond revenue, further regulation is likely to ensure that private gain from short-term rentals is not at the expense of supply of long-term accommodation.

 

 

30% tax on super earnings above $3m

Treasury has released draft legislation to enact the Government’s plan to increase the tax rate on earnings on superannuation balances above $3m from 15% to 30% from 1 July 2025. This is the final step before the legislation is introduced into Parliament and a step closer to reality.

The draft legislation appears largely unchanged from the Government’s original announcement.

The proposed calculation aims to capture growth in total super balance (TSB) over the financial year allowing for contributions (including insurance proceeds) and withdrawals. This method captures both realised and unrealised gains, enabling negative earnings to be carried forward and offset against future years.

The ATO will perform the calculation for the tax on earnings. TSBs in excess of $3 million will be tested for the first time on 30 June 2026 with the first notice of assessment expected to be issued to those impacted in the 2026-27 financial year.

From a planning perspective, for those with superannuation balances close to or above $3m, it will be important to explore the implications to your personal situation – there is no one size fits all strategy here and what is best for you will depend on your circumstances. Superannuation, even with the increased tax, remains a tax efficient vehicle.

 

 

Self-education: What can you claim?

The Australian Taxation Office have released a new draft ruling on self-education expenses. We revisit the deductibility of self-education expenses and what you can and can’t claim.

If you undertake study that is connected to your work you can normally claim your costs of that study as a tax deduction – assuming your employer has not already picked up your expenses. There is also no limit to the value of the deduction you can claim. While this all sounds great and very encouraging there are still issues to consider before claiming your Harvard graduate degree, accommodation, and flights as a self-education expense.

Clients are often surprised by what cannot be claimed. Self-education expenses are not deductible if you are undertaking the education to obtain a new job or something not connected to how you earn your income now. Take the example of a nurse’s aide who attendees university to qualify as a registered nurse. The university degree and the expenses associated with degree are not deductible as the nursing degree is not sufficiently connected to their current role as a nurse’s aide.

The ATO have recently released a new draft ruling on self-education expenses. While the ruling does not introduce new rules, it does reinforce what the ATO will accept…and what they won’t.

Personal development courses

While not always the case, one of the key challenges in claiming deductions for self-development or personal development courses is that the knowledge or skills gained are often too general. Take the example of a manager who is having difficulty coping with work because of a stressful family situation. She pays for and attends a 4-week stress management course.

In that case, the stress management course is not deductible because the course was not designed to maintain or increase the skills or specific knowledge required in her current position.

When your employment ends part the way through your course

If your employment (or your income earning activity) ends part the way through completing a course, your expenses are only deductible up to the point that you stopped work. Anything from that point forward is not deductible (that is until you obtain a new role and assuming the course remains relevant).

Overseas trips with some work thrown in

Overseas study tours are deductible in limited circumstances. If you are travelling overseas, you need to prove that the dominant purpose of the trip is related to how you earn your income. Factors that help demonstrate this include the time devoted to the advancement of your work related knowledge, the trip not being merely recreational, and that the trip was requested by or supported by your employer. The ATO are strict on this. Take the example of a senior lecturer in history at a University. He takes a trip to China with his wife while on leave over the Christmas break to update his knowledge on his area of academic interest. While his job does not require him to undertake research, he incorporated some of the 600 photos he took and some of the learnings from the tour into the courses he teaches. Despite having a relationship to work, the trip is not deductible as, while relevant in some ways to his field of activity, it is incidental to the overall private and recreational nature of the trip.

Overseas conference with some recreation thrown in

We’ve all had them. Conferences where you spend a few days in sessions and then a day (or more) of touring or golf. When the dominant purpose of the trip is related directly to your work, then the ATO are more accommodating. If the leisure time, for example an afternoon tour organised by the conference, is incidental to the conference itself, then you can claim the full conference expenses.

Where you are extending your stay beyond the conference dates and this isn’t considered incidental, then you apportion the expenses and only claim the portion related to the conference. Let’s say you attend a conference for four days, then spend another four days on holiday. Assuming the conference is directly related to your work, you can claim your expenses related to the conference (assuming they were not picked up by your employer), and half of your airfare (as it’s a 50/50 split on how you spent your time between the conference and recreation).

Not fully deductible? Part of the course might qualify

If a particular course is not entirely deductible, a deduction may still be available for some of the course fees where there are particular subjects or modules in that course that are sufficiently related to your employment or income earning activities. In these cases, the course fees would be apportioned. Take the example of a civil engineer who is completing her MBA. While the MBA itself may not have a sufficient connection to her engineering role to be fully deductible, her expenses related to the project management subject she took as part of the degree could qualify.

Interaction with government assistance

If your course is a Commonwealth supported place, you cannot claim the course fees. But, the deductibility of course fees are not impacted merely because you borrow money to pay for those fees, for example a full-fee paying student using a government FEE-HELP loan to pay for course fees.

A warning on large claims

There is no limit on the amount you can claim as a self-education expense but the ATO is more likely to target large self-education expenses. For anyone who has completed post graduate study you know that these expenses can ratchet up very quickly, particularly when you add in any other expenses such as books or travel. It’s important to ensure that there is a clear connection between your current job or business activity and the self-education expenses before you claim them.

Airfares incurred to participate in self-education, provided you are not living at the location of the self-education activity, are deductible. Airfares are part of the cost of undertaking the self-education activities.

 

 

The Billion Dollar TikTok Scandal

$1.7 billion paid out in fraudulent refunds, another $2.7bn in fraudulent claims stopped, around 56,000 alleged perpetrators and over 100 arrests to date. How did the TikTok tax scandal get out of control?

It was promoted as a victimless hack that delivered tens of thousands of dollars into your bank account. Like any hack, taking part was as simple as following the instructions. The streamlined process designed to make it easy for a small business to start-up under Australia’s self-assessment system, also made it easy for the ‘TikTok fraud’ to go viral.

How did it happen?

At some point in 2021, videos started to spread that spelt out how to get the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to deliver money into your account. Not quite a loan but a hack that sometimes saw tens of thousands delivered into accounts, no questions asked. As the message gained traction, and with more and more people validating the hack, facilitators emerged. All you had to do was hand over your personal details to the facilitators and they would take care of the rest.

The fraud saw offenders inventing fake businesses, applying for an Australian Business Number (ABN), many in their own names, then submitting fictitious Business Activity Statements (BAS) to claim GST refunds.

By late 2021, the Banks noticed the uptick in suspicious activity, mostly large refunds that were out of character for those accounts – in some cases, Centrelink recipients receiving large credits from the ATO. The banks froze a number of accounts and reported the suspicious matters as they are required to do under the Anti-Money Laundering & Counter Terrorism legislation, including to the ATO.

In April 2022, the ATO formed Operation Protego to disrupt the rapid increase in GST refund fraud by individuals that were not genuinely in business. By that stage however, the strategy had gone viral.

By May 2022, the average GST refund paid was $20,000, claimed by around 40,000 people. The ATO conceded around $850 million had been paid out in potentially fraudulent claims. By June 2022, that figure had blown out to $1.2bn but the ATO had stemmed the flow, rejecting $1.7bn in fraudulent claims. Search warrants and arrests of scheme promoters followed.

It’s hard to understand how so many people – an estimated 56,000 Australians – made the leap in logic that some sort of hack had been discovered that enabled you to claim thousands of dollars in tax refunds as a ‘loan’ from the ATO. At the best of times the ATO is not known for its sporadic acts of generosity and laissez faire attitude to tax revenue. We know the opposite is true.

And, why so many accepted a view promoted on TikTok – the act of participating in the fraud required falsifying records at several stages and yet, failed to ring alarm bells. Unfortunately, naivety is not a compelling defence against fraud.

Caught in the web?

“The ATO has zero tolerance to any fraudulent or corrupt behaviour that may in any way impact the ATO.”

The TikTok tax fraud is extensive and has several layers of impact across the 56,000 taxpayers caught up in it.

The closest circle are the scheme promoters and facilitators. To date, more than 100 people have been arrested including members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, organised criminal organisations, and youth crime gangs – and more than 10 people have been convicted for their involvement.

The maximum penalty for promoting a tax fraud scheme is 10 years in prison.

The second circle are those actively engaged in the scheme – who declared that they were carrying on a business, established an ABN, and submitted GST refund claims for expenses they did not incur. For those who received fraudulent GST refunds, the money will need to be paid back, penalties are likely to apply, and there is a risk of criminal proceedings. If the ATO have contacted you, engagement will be the key to reducing penalties and preventing an escalation to criminal proceedings. If you were engaged in the GST refund fraud but the ATO has not contacted you yet, it will be important to work with us as soon as possible to declare and manage the issue.

Where to now for identify theft victims?

The third circle is comprised of the unwitting identity theft victims whose details have been used to generate fraudulent GST refunds. The ATO have had reports of people offering to buy and sell myGov details in order to access refunds. The conversation within the accounting community is that the ATO are inundated at present trying to manage the fallout, not just from the TikTok GST refund fraud but identity theft in general. So, keep on top of your myGov account and if you notice any unusual activity, contact us asap.

The TikTok fraud timeline

“Nobody is giving money away for free or offering loans that don’t need to be paid back.”
ATO Deputy Commissioner and Chief of the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) John Ford.

The upshot to date; $2.7bn in fraudulent claims rejected before being paid, $1.7bn fraudulent payments made with around $66m recovered by 30 June 2022. Another $700m in liabilities, including around $300 million in penalties, raised in 2023-24.

 

 

The case of the taxpayer who was paid too late

What a difference timing makes. A recent case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) is a reminder about the tax impact of the timing of employment income.

In this case, the taxpayer was a non-resident working in Kuwait. As part of his work, he was entitled to a ‘milestone bonus’ but, the employer was not in a position to pay the bonus at the time.

When the job ended, the taxpayer moved to Australia and became a resident. Once in Australia, the former employer honoured the performance bonus and paid it as a series of instalments.

The dispute between the ATO and the taxpayer started when the Commissioner issued amended assessments taxing the bonus payments received.

The dispute focused on when the bonus was derived. Had the bonus been derived while the taxpayer was still a non-resident then it would not have been taxed in Australia. This is because non-residents are normally only taxed in Australia on Australian sourced income. Employment income is typically sourced in the place where the work is performed (although there can be exceptions to this).

Australian tax case law says that employment income is normally derived on receipt. In the taxpayer’s case, this was when he received the payments from his former employer, not when he became entitled to the bonus. Because the taxpayer received the bonus when he was a tax resident of Australia, the bonus was subject to tax.

The difference for the taxpayer was quite dramatic. Had he been paid the bonus when it was due, he would have paid no tax as Kuwait does not impose income tax.

Please call us if you are concerned about tax residency or managing overseas income.

 

 

The shape of Australia’s future

What will the Australian community look like in 40 years? We look at the key takeaways from the Intergenerational Report.

The 2023 Intergenerational Report (IGR) is a crystal ball insight into what we can expect Australian society to look like in 40 years and the needs of the community as we grow and evolve. It doesn’t map out our path to flying cars and Jetsons style robotic domestic help (unfortunately) but it does forecast structural trends that will give many of us a level of anxiety about what we need to be doing now to successfully navigate the future.

The report links the continued growth and prosperity of Australia to five significant areas of influence:

We’re ageing

Thanks for the reminder. The number of people aged 65 and over will more than double and the number aged 85 and over will more than triple. We’re expected to live longer with the life expectancy of men increasing from 81.3 to 87 years and from 85.2 to 89.5 for women by 2062-63. And that’s a problem for the younger generation.

Who bears the burden of an ageing population?

Australia’s low birth rate, limited migration and increased longevity all have an impact. The old age percentage – the number of people aged 65 and over for every 100 people of traditional working age (15 to 64) in the population – will increase from 26.6% to 38.2%.

From a tax perspective, Australia’s reliance on personal tax means workers will bear an increasing proportion of the tax burden under current fiscal policy. In a recent interview, former Treasury boss Ken Henry labelled it an “intergenerational tragedy” with personal tax growing from 11.7% of GDP to 13.5% based on current policy. The report says that “only 12% of Australians aged 70 and over pay income tax and this age group now makes up 12.2% of the total population. This age group is expected to increase to 18.1% of the total population in 2062-63.” Wholesale tax reform will be required to prevent the growing tax burden on individuals dragging on the economy. With economic growth expected to slow to 2.2% from 3.1% over the next 40 years, the solution will not magically arise from corporate Australia. If it was not for our high rate of inflation you would think an increase to the GST was imminent.

Services and who pays

Demographic ageing alone is estimated to account for around 40% of the increase in Government spending over the next 40 years.

The outcome of an ageing population, as you would expect, is increased demand for care and support services that will push the Federal Budget back to a point where deficits are the norm if the current policies remain in place.

From a consumer perspective, it also means that the trend towards user-pays will only increase. As individuals, we need to ensure that we have the means to fund our old age because Government resources will be limited by increasing demand and this demand is funded by a deteriorating percentage of workers contributing to tax revenue.

It’s also likely that we will need to look at how we generate income. For some that might mean working longer, for others it is value adding – creating, buying and selling assets in some form, whether that is business, innovation, or through more traditional assets such as property or financial products.

Superannuation the size of a nation

Australia currently has the fourth largest pool of retirement assets in the world, with total superannuation balances projected to grow from 116% of GDP in 2022-23 to around 218% by 2062-63. Our superannuation system will be what underwrites retirement for most Australians. At present, around 70% of people over aged pension age receive some form of Government income support. Over time, and as our superannuation system matures, this percentage is expected to decline sharply as a percentage of GDP with Government support supplementing rather than providing for retirement (the first generation of workers with superannuation guarantee throughout their working life hit retirement age around 2058).

However, the IGR points out that, “the cost of superannuation concessions will increase, driven by earnings on the larger superannuation balances held by Australians.” The proposed tax on future earnings on super balances above $3m may not be the last.

You can expect the management of superannuation to be a priority for Government to ensure that retirement savings are maximised to reduce the reliance on Government support, and to ensure that this enormous pool is leveraged for the gain of not only members, but the nation.

Growth of services

Like most advanced economies, global competition has shifted Australia’s industrial base from the production of goods to services. Ninety percent of jobs are now in services.

With an ageing population, demand for health and care services is expected to soar. People aged 65 or older currently account for around 40% of total Australian health expenditure, despite being about 16% of the population. The IGR estimates that the workforce required to support this sector will need to be twice the size of what it is now to meet demand by 2049-50.

The Government’s biggest spending pressures will be health, aged care, the NDIS, defence and interest payments on government debt. Of these, the NDIS is the fastest growing at 7% per year.

The role of technology

The speed of technological change is difficult to predict, and the IGR doesn’t attempt to make predictions. But what we do know is that technology has had a transformational impact on labour productivity (the value of output of goods and services produced per hour of work). Over the last 30 years, labour productivity has accounted for around 70% of the growth in Australia’s real gross national income. But, tempering this is a slowing of labour productivity growth since the mid-2000s.

We know technological disruption is coming and the debate about the role of artificial intelligence is only just beginning. We also know that unless technology is accessible, our future will be one polarised by those who have and have not benefited from technological change.

 

Climate change transformation

There are two key aspects to climate change; the cost of rising temperatures, and the opportunity created by the shift to renewable energy.

Temperatures are anticipated to increase by 1.5 degrees before 2100, potentially before 2040.

From 1960 to 2018, climate disasters reduced annual labour productivity in the year they occurred by about 0.5% in advanced economies. However, for severe climate disasters labour productivity is estimated to be around 7% lower after three years. With rising temperatures, floods, bushfires and other extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and severity. The impact of climate change spelt out in the report is sobering with disruptions and changing patterns impacting agriculture, tourism, recreation and industries that rely on labour intensive outdoor work.

On the positive side, Australia could benefit from new “green” industries, such as hydrogen and other clean energy exports, critical minerals and green metals. It is also likely to drive new, innovative ideas as businesses invest in and develop low emissions technologies, providing a source of future productivity growth in a more sustainable economy. Australia’s potential to generate renewable energy more cheaply than many countries could also reduce costs for both new and traditional sectors, relative to the costs faced by other countries.

Geopolitical risks

Australia relies on open international markets. Trade disputes and military conflicts pose an external threat to Australia’s economy and well being. While the IGR cannot predict the nature of geopolitical events, it notes the importance of investing in national security, presumably this includes cybersecurity, ensuring access to international markets, and deepening regional partnerships to reduce supply chain vulnerabilities.

 

 

 

Legislating the ‘objective’ of super

The proposed objective of superannuation released in recently released draft legislation is: ‘to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way.’

The significance of legislating the objective of super is that any future legislated changes to the superannuation system must be in line with this objective. It’s a fairly broad definition. For example, “equitable” seeks to address the distributional impact of superannuation policy. That is, latitude for the Government to target tax concessions to address differences in demographic factors and structural inequities including intergenerational inequity and outcomes for different groups including women, First Nations Australians, vulnerable members and low-income earners.

“Sustainable” encapsulates the changing needs of an ageing population including reducing the reliance on the Age Pension. The draft also alludes to the viability of the cost of tax concessions used to incentivise Australians to save for retirement.

“Deliver income” appears to reinforce the concept that superannuation savings “should be drawn down to provide individuals with a source of income during their retirement.”

More than 15 million Australians now have a superannuation account. Australia’s superannuation pool has grown from around $148 billion in 1992 to $3.5 trillion in 2023, and will continue to grow. Total superannuation balances as a proportion of GDP are projected to almost double from 116% in 2022–23 to around 218% of GDP by 2062-63. The consultation also recognises the value of the superannuation system as a source of capital, “which can support investment in capacity-building areas of the economy where there is alignment between the best financial interests of members and national economic priorities.”

 

 

Why is my tax refund so small?

The tax refund many Australians expect has dramatically reduced. We show you why.

There is a psychology to tax refunds that successive Governments have been reticent to tamper with. As a nation, Australia relies heavily on personal and corporate income tax, with personal income tax including taxes on capital gains representing 40% of revenue compared to the OECD average of 24%. And, for the amount we pay, we expect a reward.

The reward is in the form of tax deductions that reduce the amount of net income that is assessed for tax purposes and tax offsets that reduce the tax payable, generating a refund for some. And, refunds have a positive impact on tax compliance.

As part of the previous Government’s efforts to flatten out the progressive individual income tax system, a time-limited low and middle income tax offset was introduced. The lifespan of the offset was extended twice, partly as a stimulus measure in response to COVID-19. The offset delivered up to $1,080 from 2018-19 to 2020-21, and up to $1,500 in 2021-22 for those earning up to $126,000. This was a significant boost for many people each tax time and bolstered the tax returns of millions of Australians. For many, the end of this offset has meant that their tax refund has reduced dramatically compared to previous years.

Do we pay more tax than other nations?

It depends on how you look at the statistics. Australia relies heavily on income tax, collecting 40% of tax revenue from personal income. That makes Australia the fourth highest taxing nation for personal tax in the OECD – but we were second highest in 2019 if that makes you feel better. But, if you are looking at take home pay there is a separate measure for that. The Employee tax on labour income looks at our take home pay once tax is taken out and benefits have been added back in. This shows that the take home pay of an average single worker is 77% of their gross wage compared to the OCED average of 75.4%. For the average worker with a family (one married earner with 2 children), once tax and family benefits are taken into account, the Australian take home pay average is 84.1% compared to the OECD average of 85.9%. All of this means that Australia is a high taxing nation but returns much of that in the form of means tested benefits.

Australia also does not have social security contributions like other nations. These contributions represent an average of 27% of the total tax take for OECD nations.

And, because Australia has a progressive tax system, the pain of taxation is felt more by higher income earners. The top 11.6% of Australian income earners contribute 55.3% of the tax revenue from personal income tax.

With the final round of legislated income tax cuts due to commence on 1 July 2024, this should reduce the overall dependence on personal income tax relative to corporate and other taxes.

So, do we personally pay more tax than other nations? If you are a high-income earner the answer is likely to be yes. If not, the answer is no.

As Benjamin Disraeli reportedly said, “…lies, damn lies, and statistics”. It’s all how you read it.                      

Is a second job worth it?

In an Uber the other day, the driver revealed that he had become a driver to pay for his second mortgage. He invested in property but with interest rates spiking, the only way he could hold onto the property was to earn additional income. His “day job” starts early and ends at 3pm at which time he heads off to start driving.

He is not alone. The latest stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that the number of workers holding multiple jobs has increased by 2.1% since December 2022 – in total, Australia has 947,300 people holding multiple jobs or 6.6% of the working population.

The reason why people take on second jobs is varied. For some, it is to manage increasing costs, for others it is to start up a new venture but with the security of a regular income stream from their primary occupation.

Is it worth it?

From a tax perspective, Australia has a progressive income tax system – the more you earn the more tax you pay, and access to social benefits tapers off.  It’s important when looking at a second job to understand your overall position – how much you are likely to earn, your costs of generating income, and what this income level will mean.

The trap for many picking up a ‘gig economy’ second job is that they are often independent contractors. That is, you are responsible for managing your tax affairs. All Uber drivers for example, are required to hold an ABN and be registered for GST. There is a compliance cost to this and from a cashflow perspective, 1/11th of the fee collected needs to be remitted to the Tax Office once a quarter. It’s important to quarantine both the GST owing and income tax to ensure you have the cashflow to pay the tax when it is due. The upside is you can claim the expenses related to your second job.

If you are taking on a second job, ensure that your tax-free threshold applies to your highest paying job from a PAYG withholding perspective.

 

Succession: What does it take to and your business to the next generation?

What is the end game for your business? Succession is not just a topic for a TV series or billionaire families, it’s about successfully transitioning your business and maximising its capital value for you, the owners.

When it comes to generational succession of a family business, there are a few important aspects:

  • Succession of the business;
  • Succession of the ownership of the business;
  • Succession planning/pathway; and
  • Moving from a business family to an investment family.

For generational succession to succeed, even if that succession is the sale of the business and the management of the sale proceeds for the benefit of the family, communication is essential. Where generational succession fails, it is often because succession has not been formalised until a catalyst event or retirement planning requires it.

A concept of ‘legacy’ is not enough. Successful succession occurs when the guiding principles of governance, family rules, aligning values, dispute resolution, succession and estate planning are managed well before discontent tears it apart.

Generational succession usually involves the transfer of an interest in a business to another generation of a family (usually younger). It is often a family in business rather than simply a family business.

The options for how a movement of an interest may occur are many and varied but usually focus on the transfer of some or all of the equity held in the business over a period or at a defined point in time and the payment of some form of consideration for the equity transferred. Alternatively, a part of the equity transfer may ultimately be dealt with through the estate.

Generational succession comes with its own set of issues that need to be dealt with:

Capability and willingness of the next generation

A realistic assessment of whether the business can continue successfully after the transition. In some cases, the older generation will pursue generational succession either as a means of keeping the business in the family, perpetuating their legacy, or to provide a stable business future for the next generation. While reasonable objectives, they only work where there is capability and willingness. Communication of expectations is essential.

Capital transfer

Consider the capital requirements of the exiting generation. To what extent do you need to extract capital from the business at the time of the transition? The higher the level of capital needed, the greater the pressure on the business and the equity stakeholders.

In many cases, the incoming generation will not have sufficient capital to buy-out the exiting generation. This will require the vendors to maintain a continuing investment in the business or for the business to take on an increased level of debt. Either scenario needs to be assessed for its sustainability at a business and shareholder level. In some scenarios the exiting owners will transition their ownership on an agreed timeframe.

Managing remuneration

In many small and medium businesses, the owners arrange their remuneration from the business to meet their needs rather than being reasonable compensation for the roles undertaken. This can result in the business either paying too much or too little. Under generational succession, there should be an increased level of formality around compensation. Compensation should be matched to roles, and where performance incentives exist, these should be clearly structured.

 

 

Who has operational management and control?

Transition of control is often a sensitive area. It is essential to establish and agree in advance how operating and management control will be maintained and transitioned. This is important not only for the generational stakeholders but also for the business. Often the exiting business owners have a firm view on how the business should be run. Uncertainty in the management and decision making of the business can lead to confusion or a vacuum – either will have an adverse impact. Tensions often arise because:

  • The incoming generation want freedom of decision making and the ability to put their imprint on the business.
  • Without operating control, they feel that they have management in name only.
  • The exiting generation believe that their experience is necessary to the business and entitles them to a continued say.
  • A perception that capital investment should equate to ultimate operating control.
  • An uncertainty by either or both generations about the extent of their ongoing roles.

Agreeing transition of control in advance, on an agreed timeframe, can significantly reduce tensions.

Transition timeframes and expectations

Generational succession is often a process rather than an event. The extended timeframe for the transition requires active management to ensure that there are mutual expectations and to avoid the process being derailed by frustration.

The established generation may have identified that they want to scale down their business involvement and bring on other family members to succeed them. This does not necessarily mean that they want to withdraw completely. An extended transition period is not uncommon and can often assist the business in managing the change. This can also work well in managing income and capital withdrawal requirements.

The need for greater formality and management structure

A danger for many SMEs is the blurring of the boundaries between the role of the Board, shareholders, and management. With generational succession, this can become even more pronounced. Formality in these structures is important, with clear definitions of the roles and clarification of the expectations. For example, who should be a director and what is their role?

For some, the role of the family is managed by a family constitution – an agreed set of rules. For others there will be an external advisory group that advises the family to ensure that the required independent expertise is brought to bear.

Successfully managing generational change is a process we can help you navigate. Talk to us about how we can help to structure an effective transition path. 

 

 

Thinking of subdividing? The tax implications and pitfalls of small-scale subdivisions

You’ve got a block of land that’s perfect for a subdivision. The details have all been worked out with Council, the builders, and the bank. But, one important aspect has been left out; the tax implications.

Many small-scale developers often assume that their tax exposure is minimal – but this is not always the case and the tax treatment of a subdivision project can significantly impact on cashflow and the financial viability of the project.

New guidance from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) walks through the tax impact of small-scale subdivision projects. We look at some of the leading issues:

Tax treatment of the subdivision

Subdividing land

The tax treatment of even a small subdivision can become complex very quickly and tax applies according to the circumstances. You cannot simply assume that just because it’s a small development, any profit from the eventual sale will be taxed as a capital gain and qualify for CGT concessions.

In general, if you own a property personally, it has been held and used for private purposes over an extended period, you subdivide it and sell the newly created block, then capital gains tax is likely to apply to any gain you make. The gain is recognised from the point you first acquired the land, although you will ned to apportion the amount paid for the property between the subdivided lots. If you are subdividing a property that contains your home – the main residence exemption will not generally be available if you sell a subdivided block separately from the block containing your home, even if the land has only ever been used for private purposes in connection with your home.

If a property is initially owned jointly but the property is subdivided and the lots split between the owners, then this will normally trigger upfront tax implications even though the land hasn’t been sold to an unrelated party yet. Arrangements like this (referred to as partitioning) can be complex to deal with from a tax perspective.

Developing a property

But what happens if you develop the land? It’s not uncommon for people to decide to subdivide and develop their block by building a house or duplex and then selling the new dwelling.

When someone develops a property with the intention of selling the finished product at a profit in the short term, there is a risk that this will be taxed as income rather than under the capital gains tax rules. This limits the availability of CGT concessions (such as the 50% CGT discount) and will often expose the owners to GST liabilities as well. This can be the case even for one-off property developments.

Let’s look at an example. Claude purchased his home on 1 July 2001 for $300,000. In July 2020, Claude began investigating the idea of subdividing his block and building a new house, then selling it. A registered valuers report on the subdivision says that the original house and land is now worth $360,000, and the subdivided lot is worth $240,000 (the valuation is an important step before commencement to prevent any debates with the ATO). Claude decides to go ahead and build a dwelling on the newly subdivided block and takes out a loan of $400,000 for the development. He intends to pay off the loan as soon as the house sells.

In July 2021, Claude sells the subdivided block and new home for $1,210,000 (GST-inclusive).

Here is how the tax works for Claude’s scenario:

  • Claude made an overall economic gain of $580,000.
  • The overall gain ($580,000) is based on the GST exclusive sale proceeds ($1,100,000, although we are assuming that the GST margin scheme isn’t applied) minus the GST exclusive development expenses ($400,000) and the original cost attributable to the newly subdivided lot of $120,000 ($300,000 × 40%).
  • The increase in the value of the newly created subdivided lot from when it was originally acquired (1 July 2001) up to when the profit-making activities began (1 July 2020) should be treated as a capital gain.
  • The value of the newly created subdivided lot at the time Claude began to undertake profit-making activities on 1 July 2020 was $240,000. The original cost, attributable to the newly created subdivided lot was $120,000 (40% × $300,000) on 1 July 2001. This means that there is a capital gain of $120,000.
  • As Claude has held the subdivided block for greater than 12 months he is entitled to a 50% CGT discount, hence there is a discounted capital gain of $60,000.
  • The increase in the value of the newly created subdivided lot from when the profit-making activities began up to the time of sale should be treated as ordinary income.
  • The net profit ($460,000) will be based on the GST exclusive sale proceeds ($1,100,000) minus the GST exclusive development expenses ($400,000) and the value of the subdivided lot ($240,000).

If Claude is not carrying on a business, he cannot claim a deduction for the development expenses as they are incurred. They will be taken into account in determining the net profit on sale.

If Claude finished the development but decided not to sell the property, then this would complicate the income tax and GST treatment. We would need to explore what Claude plans to do with the property.

Do I need to register for GST?

If you are an individual who is subdividing land that has been held and used for private purposes then you might not need to GST, although this will depend on the situation. However, if you are engaged in a property development business or a one-off project that is undertaken in a business-like manner, then it is more likely that you would need to register for GST.

In Claude’s scenario, because the projected sale price of the developed land was above the GST threshold of $75,000, he will probably need to register for GST. This will mean that he:

  • Has a ‘default’ GST liability of $110,000 on the sale price of the developed block, although it might be possible to reduce the GST liability by applying the GST margin scheme
  • Needs to provide a notification to the purchaser of the amount at settlement to be withheld and paid to the ATO
  • Is able to claim $40,000 credits for the GST included in the development expenses (subject to the normal GST rules), and
  • Must report these transactions by completing business activity statements.

The tax consequences of subdivision and other property projects can be complex. If you are contemplating undertaking a subdivision and any property development activities, please contact us and we can help walk you through the scenarios and tax impact of the project.

The 120% technology and skills ‘boost’ deduction

The 120% skills and training, and technology costs deduction for small and medium business have passed Parliament. We’ll show you how to take maximise your deductions.

Almost a year after the 2022-23 Federal Budget announcement, the 120% tax deduction for expenditure by small and medium businesses (SME) on technology, or skills and training for their staff, is finally law. But there are a few complexities in the timing – to utilise the technology investment boost, you had to of purchased the technology and when it comes to acquiring eligible assets, installed it ready for use by 30 June 2023; that’s just seven days from the date the legislation passed Parliament.

Who can access the boosts?

The 120% skills and training, and technology boosts are available to small business entities (individual sole traders, partnership, company or trading trust) with an aggregated annual turnover of less than $50 million. Aggregated turnover is the turnover of your business and that of your affiliates and connected entities.

$20k technology investment boost

The Technology Investment Boost provides SMEs with a bonus deduction for expenses and depreciating assets for digital operations or digitising from 7:30pm (AEST) on 29 March 2022 until 30 June 2023.

You ‘incur’ an expense when you are in debt for it; this might be a tax invoice or it might be a contract where you are legally liable for the cost.

For depreciating assets, like computer hardware, there is an extra step. The technology needs to have been purchased and installed ready for use. For example, if you ordered 10 computers, you need to have received the computers and had them set up ready to use by at least 30 June 2023. Ordering them on 29 June won’t be enough to claim the boost if you did not receive them.

The types of expenses that might be eligible for the technology boost include:

  • Digital enabling items – computer and telecommunications hardware and equipment, software, internet costs, systems and services that form and facilitate the use of computer networks;
  • Digital media and marketing – audio and visual content that can be created, accessed, stored or viewed on digital devices, including web page design;
  • E-commerce – goods or services supporting digitally ordered or platform-enabled online transactions, portable payment devices, digital inventory management, subscriptions to cloud-based services, and advice on digital operations or digitising operations, such as advice about digital tools to support business continuity and growth; or
  • Cyber security – cyber security systems, backup management and monitoring services.

 

 

The technology also must be “wholly or substantially for the purposes of an entity’s digital operations or digitising the entity’s operations”. That is, there must be a direct link to your business’s digital operations. For example, claiming the drone you bought at say Christmas 2022 won’t be deductible unless your business is, for example, a real estate agency that needed a drone to take aerial images of client homes to market on their website. The expense needs to relate to how the business earns its income, in particular its digital operations.

Repair and maintenance costs can be claimed as long as the expenses meet the eligibility criteria.

Where the expenditure has mixed use (i.e., partly private), the bonus deduction applies to the proportion of the expenditure that is for business use.

There are a few costs that the technology boost won’t cover such as costs relating to employing staff, raising capital, construction of business premises, and the cost of goods and services the business sells. The boost will not apply to:

  • Assets that you purchased but then sold within the relevant period (e.g., on or prior to 30 June 2023).
  • Capital works costs (for example, improvements to a building used as business premises).
  • Financing costs such as interest expenses.
  • Salary or wage costs.
  • Training or education costs, that is, training staff on software or technology won’t qualify (see Skills and Training Boost).
  • Trading stock or the cost of trading stock.

Let’s look at the example of A Co Pty Ltd (A Co) that purchased multiple laptops on 15 July 2022 to help its employees to work from home. The total cost was $100,000. The laptops were delivered on 19 July 2022 and immediately issued to staff entirely for business use.

As the holder of the assets, A Co is entitled to claim a deduction for the depreciation of a capital expense. A Co can claim the cost of the laptops ($100,000) as a deduction under the temporary full expensing in its 2022-23 income tax return. It can also claim the maximum $20,000 bonus deduction in its 2022-23 income tax return.

The $20,000 bonus deduction is not paid to the business in cash but is used to offset against A Co’s assessable income. If the company is in a loss position, then the bonus deduction would increase the tax loss. The cash value to the business of the bonus deduction will depend on whether it generates a taxable profit or loss during the relevant year and the rate of tax that applies.

The good news for many eligible businesses is that your technology subscriptions and other products you use in your business might qualify for the boost.

The boost is claimed in your tax return with the extra 20% sitting on top your normal claim. That is, however the way the expense or asset is claimed (immediately or over time), the bonus 20% applies in the same way.

 

The Skills and Training Boost

The Skills and Training Boost gives you a 120% tax deduction for external training courses provided to employees. The aim of this boost is to help SMEs grow their workforce, including taking on less-skilled employees and upskilling them using external training to develop their skills and enhance their productivity.

Sole traders, partners in a partnership, independent contractors and other non-employees do not qualify for the boost as they are not employees. Similarly, associates such as spouses or partners, or trustees of a trust, don’t qualify.

As always, there are a few rules:

  • Registration for the training course had to be from 7:30pm (AEST) on 29 March 2022 until 30 June 2024. If an employee is part the way through an eligible training course, enrolments in courses or classes after 29 March 2022 are eligible, not before.
  • The training needs to be deductible to your business under ordinary rules. That is, the training is related to how the business earns its income.
  • A registered training provider needs to charge your business (either directly or indirectly) for the training (see What organisations can provide training for the boost).
  • The training must be for employees of your business and delivered in-person in Australia or online.
  • The training provider cannot be your business or an associate of your business.

Training expenditure can include costs incidental to the training, for example, the cost of books or equipment necessary for the training course but only if the training provider charges the business for these costs.

Let’s look at an example. Animals 4U Pty Ltd is a small entity that operates a veterinary centre. The business recently took on a new employee to assist with jobs across the centre. The employee has some prior experience in animal studies and is keen to upskill to become a veterinary nurse. The business pays $3,500 for the employee to undertake external training in veterinary nursing. The training meets the requirements of a GST-free supply of education. The training is delivered by a registered training provider, registered to deliver veterinary nursing education.

The bonus deduction is calculated as 20% of the amount of expenditure the business could typically deduct. In this case, the full $3,500 is deductible as a business operating expense. Assuming the other eligibility criteria for the boost are satisfied, the bonus deduction is calculated as 20% of $3,500. That is, $700.

In this example, the bonus deduction available is $700. That does not mean the business receives $700 back from the ATO in cash, it means that the business is able to reduce its taxable income by $700. If the company has a positive amount of taxable income for the year and is subject to a 25% tax rate, then the net impact is a reduction in the company’s tax liability of $175. This also means that the company will generate fewer franking credits, which could mean more top-up tax needs to be paid when the company pays out its profits as dividends to the shareholders.

What organisations can provide training for the boost?

Not all courses provided by training companies will qualify for the boost; only those charged by registered training providers within their registration. Typically, this is vocational training to learn a trade or courses that count towards a qualification rather than professional development.

Qualifying training providers will be registered by:

While some training you might want to have engaged might not be delivered by registered training organisations, there is still a lot out there, particularly the short-courses offered by universities, or the flexible courses designed for upskilling rather than as a degree qualification. If you have recently completed performance reviews for staff and training is part of their development pathway, it might be worth exploring.

 

Backing a winner: Digital games tax

The digital games and interactive entertainment sector is the largest creative sector in the world and one of the fastest growing industries worldwide. The global digital games industry is worth around $250 billion and in Australia, grew 22% between 2020 and 2021 generating $226.5 million in income and employing over 1,300 fulltime workers. And, it’s an industry the Government wants to support with a new tax offset.

The Digital Games Tax Offset is equal to 30% of the company’s total qualifying Australian development expenditure incurred from 1 July 2022. Companies can claim up to $20 million per company (or group of companies) per year (to reach the cap a company would need to spend around $66.7 million in eligible expenditure).

State based tax incentives are also available in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales offering an additional 10% and Queensland offering 15% on top of the federal support. Globally, a 40% tax offset is standard for this industry so the tax offset brings Australia back into a competitive position.

Who is eligible?

Companies that are Australian tax residents or foreign tax residents with a permanent establishment in Australia can qualify.

To access the offset, the company needs a certificate issued by the Arts Minister following the completion of a new digital game, the porting of a digital game to a new platform, or for ongoing development of one or more existing digital games during the income year. This certificate then determines the offset claimed in the tax return with the Minister determining the amount of qualifying expenditure. More information will be available on the arts.gov.au website in early July 2023.

The company’s qualifying Australian development expenditure incurred needs to be at least $500,000 (could be over multiple years).

What is development expenditure?

The way the rules work is that any expenditure that a company incurs in relation to the development of the qualifying game is eligible expenditure…unless it is specifically excluded. A company develops a game by doing any of the activities necessary to complete, port, update, improve or maintain an eligible game.

The legislation takes a further step by specifically including employee remuneration or independent contractors engaged by the company to carry out work on the development of the game (excluding bonuses linked to the performance of the company or the game). Prototyping is also specifically included as is underlying game technology.

Employees that are not developing the game, for example admin staff or overseas contractors, are excluded. As are corporate costs like business overheads, marketing, travel, entertainment etc.

What games are eligible?

A digital game that can receive a classification and is made available to the general public over the internet (i.e., games developed for in-house purposes don’t qualify). The game does not include gambling or gambling like elements (loot boxes are likely to make a game ineligible if for example, the virtual items can be sold for currency) nor is used for advertising or for commercial purposes.

Australian digital games successes

Remember Fruit Ninja? Fruit Ninja, founded by HalfBrick, became a sensation in 2015 with over 1 billion downloads. Who knew a game that slices fruit with a sword would capture so much attention. Anyone with kids would have seen Crossy Road developed by Melbourne based Hipster Whale. Ninety days after it release it had 50 million downloads, earning over $10m. The Sims Freeplay was created by a merger of Melbourne studios Iron Monkey and Firemint when they were purchased by EA Games.  Then there is Melbourne based Big Ant Studios, one of the world’s biggest sports game developers and known for games such as the Tennis World Tour Game, Cricket 22 and an upcoming Rugby World Cup 2023 game.

 

 

What changed on 1 July 2023

Employers & business

  • Superannuation guarantee increases to 11% from 10.5%
  • National and Award minimum wage increases take effect.
  • The minimum salary that must be paid to a sponsored employee – the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold – increased to $70,000 from $53,900.
  • Work restrictions for student visa holders reintroduced to 48 hours per fortnight.
  • The cap on claims via the small claims court procedures for workers to recover unpaid work entitlements increases from $20,000 to $100,000.
  • Energy Bill Relief Fund for small business kicks in – it will apply to your energy bills if you meet the criteria.
  • Sharing economy reporting to the ATO commences for electronic distribution platforms.

Superannuation

  • Superannuation guarantee increases to 11%
  • Indexation increases the general transfer balance cap to $1.9 million.
  • Minimum pension amounts for super income streams return to default rates.
  • SMSF transfer balance event reporting moves from annual to quarterly for all funds.

For you and your family

  • The new 67 cent fixed rate method for working from home deductions – make sure you have a record of when you work from home. The ATO won’t accept a simple “I work from home every Wednesday” x 8 hours calculation.
  • Access to the first home loan guarantee expands to “friends, siblings, and other family members.”
  • The Medicare low income threshold has increased for 2022-23.
  • The child care subsidy will increase from 10 July 2023 for families with household income under $530,000. See the Services Australia website for details.
  • New parents able to claim up to 20 weeks paid parental leave.
  • Access the age pension increased to 67 years of age.            

 

Important: 1 July 2023 wage increases

For employers, incorrectly calculating wages is not portrayed as a mistake, it’s “wage theft.” Beyond the reputational issues of getting it wrong, the Fair Work Commission backs it up with fines of $9,390 per breach for a corporation. In 2021-22 alone, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $532 million in unpaid wages recovered for over 384,000 workers.

On 1 July 2023, award rates of pay and the National Minimum Wage increased by 5.75%.

It is critically important that all employers review their payroll systems and ensure they are applying the correct rates and Awards.

The National Minimum Wage applies to workers not covered by an Award or registered agreement. From 1 July 2023, the National Minimum wage has increased to $23.23 per hour ($882.80 per week for a full time employee working a standard 38 hours week).

For casuals, the minimum wage including the 25% casual loading is a minimum of $29.04 per hour.

For workers under an Award, adult minimum award wages increase by 5.75% applied from the first full pay period on or after 1 July 2023. Proportionate increases apply to junior workers, apprentice and supported wages.

In addition, the superannuation guarantee increased from 10.5% to 11% on 1 July 2023.

If the employment agreement with your workers 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.

Cents per kilometre increase

The cents per kilometre rate for motor vehicle expenses for 2023-24 has increased to 85 cents.

 

$20k Small Business Energy Incentive

In a pre-Budget announcement, the Government has committed to a Small Business Energy Incentive Scheme that offers a bonus tax deduction of up to $20,000.

The Small Business Energy Incentive encourages small and medium businesses with an aggregated turnover of less than $50 million to invest in spending that supports “electrification” and more efficient use of energy.

Up to $100,000 of total expenditure will be eligible for the incentive, with the maximum bonus tax deduction of $20,000 per business. Eligible assets or upgrades will need to be first used or installed ready for use between 1 July 2023 and 30 June 2024 to qualify for the bonus deduction. 

If your business is contemplating upgrading to improve energy efficiency, it’s worth waiting to see the detail of the proposal. We’ll bring you more details of the scheme and how your business might benefit as soon as they are released.

Look out for our 2023-24 Budget update with the details important to you, your business, and your superannuation.

 

‘OnlyFans’ Tax Risk Warning

The explosion of OnlyFans, YouTubers, TikTokers and others all offer an opportunity for ‘content creators’ to profit from the audiences they generate. But now the Tax Office has given notice to the booming industry.

Back in October 2022, OnlyFans CEO Ami Gan announced that the platform had reached a milestone – paying out $10 billion to content creators since its launch in 2016. While known for its adult content, the OnlyFans CEO intends to broaden the platform’s scope and provide a means for other content creators – chefs, personal trainers, etc – to utilise its subscription and reward model to generate income. While there are plenty of stories of content creators generating large incomes from the platform like Perth creator Lucy Banks who told Channel 7 she earnt $60,000 in one month, the average income per month is reportedly around USD $150-$180. Creators might also receive ‘gifts’ in various forms from their subscribers.

OnlyFans is not the only platform generating revenue for Australians; there are plenty of other stories.  Google’s AdSense calculator estimates that for finance channels with 50,000 monthly views, estimated income is $15,012 ($9,390 for beauty & fitness channels). The message is, there are a lot of content creators generating benefits in a wide variety of forms and the Tax Office wants to ensure everyone is crystal clear about their expectations.

How content creators are taxed

A new update released by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) in April outlines the regulator’s expectations for how content creators will be assessed for tax purposes:

Income tax on money, gifts and goods

If you make an income as a content creator, then it’s likely it will be assessed for tax purposes unless what you are doing is a genuine hobby with no expectation of generating a profit (see When is a side hustle a business?). For subscriber-based sites like OnlyFans, there is normally no question about the profit-making expectation.

The ATO’s guide also makes it clear that assessable income covers not only money but appearance fees, goods you receive, cryptocurrency, or gifts from fans. And, this is where the problem lies for most content creators. Income in the form of money is easy to track and report. Non-monetary income in the form of goods is not so easy. Let’s say a company sends you a handbag with a retail value of $800. The bag is yours to keep. The Tax Office expects you to declare the market value of the bag as income and pay tax on that income. If you receive multiple items throughout the year, or larger inducements like a destination holiday, then this might create a cashflow problem when you need to pay real money to the Tax Office for a ‘free’ product. 

The ATO’s blanket statement that all ‘gifts’ and products should be reported as assessable income fails to recognise that it is not always quite that simple in practice. If you create content as a hobby and not as a profit-making venture for example, and a company sends you an unsolicited gift, the position is a little less clear. It really comes down to the specific scenario.

The timing of when you receive income is also important for content creators. The tax rules consider that you have earned the income “as soon as it is applied or dealt with in any way on your behalf or as you direct”. If you are an OnlyFans content creator for example, this is when your OnlyFans account is credited, not when you direct the money to be paid to your personal or business account. So, squirrelling it away from the ATO in your platform account won’t protect you from paying tax on it. And, from 1 July 2023, a new reporting regime will require electronic distribution platforms to report their transactions to the ATO. The regime starts with ride sharing and short-term accommodation platforms, then extends to all other platforms, including OnlyFans, from 1 July 2024.

Do I need to register for GST?

Generally, once you earn or expect to earn $75,000 or more per annum, you will need to register for GST. The exception to the $75,000 threshold is Uber and other ride-sourcing drivers who must have an ABN and be registered for GST regardless of how much they earn.

However, even if a content creator is required to register for GST, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the money and goods they receive will trigger a GST liability. For example, the GST rules contain some special provisions which sometimes enable supplies made to foreign resident customers to be GST-free (although they still normally need to be taken into account in determining whether the supplier needs to register for GST). 

Even if GST-free income is received from foreign resident customers, it will normally still be possible to claim back GST credits for the expenses incurred in connection with these activities.

What deductions can I claim?

The upside of being a profit-making venture is that if you spend money to generate income, you can claim a deduction for certain expenses that directly relate to that income. Items such as video production equipment, microphones, online stores etc., might be deductible although in some cases the deductions will be spread over a number of income years. However, you can’t normally claim items such as cosmetic surgery, gym memberships, ‘every day’ clothes, or the cost of your hairdresser ‘because you need to look good’. The Tax Office does not consider that these are directly related to how you earn your income and that in many cases, these are still primarily private expenses (see the ATO’s occupation specific guides for what you can claim).

When is a side hustle a business?

The distinction between something you do on the side and carrying on a business can be a fine line. There is no one test for what determines whether you are carrying on a business versus a hobby but factors such as the regularity of your transactions, whether or not you are promoting yourself as a business (developing a brand name etc.,), if you engage in marketing activities, whether you intend to develop a business and make a profit (or have the capacity to generate a profit over time), the size, scale and permanency of your activities, and whether you operate in a business-like manner, all go toward determining whether what you are doing is a business or merely a hobby. 

If your activities are just a hobby then the income is not assessable, and the expenses are not deductible. If you are carrying on a business, then you need to declare the income earned but you also get to claim deductions for the cost of the business activities (although this still needs to be analysed to see whether amounts can be deducted upfront or over a period of time). 

 

 

ATO Rental Property Blitz

 

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has launched a full-on assault on rental property owners who incorrectly report income and expenses.

The ATO’s assessment, based on previous data matching programs, is that there is a tax gap of around $1 billion from incorrect reporting of rental property income and expenses. And, they would like that back now please.

As a result, banks and other financial institutions will be required to hand the ATO residential investment loan data on an estimated 1.7 million rental property owners for the period from 2021-22 through to 2025-26.

The data collected will include:

  • identification details (names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, etc.)
  • account details (account numbers, BSB’s, balances, commencement and end dates, etc.)
  • transaction details (transaction date, transaction amount etc.)
  • property details (addresses, etc.)

In addition to identifying whether landlords are declaring their residential investment property income at all, the data matching program is looking specifically at how rental property loan interest and borrowing expense deductions have been reported in the rental property schedules, and whether net capital gains have been declared for property used to generate income. 

Banks are not the only source of data. In a complimentary program, the ATO is targeting rental property management software. Over the last decade, much of the financial management of residential rental property has moved online, facilitated by various platform providers. The ATO will require these rental property software providers to provide details of property owners including their bank details, income, expenses and the amount of those expenses, and details of their associated rental properties and agents. Data collection of the estimated 1.6 million individuals in this data program will cover the period from 2018-19 to 2022-23.

With that, let’s recap on the common problem areas:

Claiming interest and redrawing on the loan

The interest component of your investment property loan is generally deductible. However, if you redraw on your invest loan for personal purposes, interest on this portion of the loan will not be deductible. This means that interest expenses will need to be apportioned into deductible and non-deductible parts and repayments will often need to be apportioned too. If the redrawn funds are used to produce investment income, then the interest on this portion of the loan should be deductible. 

Borrowing costs

You can claim a deduction for borrowing costs (typically over five years) such as application fees, mortgage registration and filing, mortgage broker fees, stamp duty on mortgage, title search fee, valuation fee, mortgage insurance and legals on the loan. Life insurance to pay the loan on death is not deductible even if taking out the insurance was a requirement to get finance. If the loan is repaid early or refinanced, the whole amount including mortgage discharge expenses and penalty interest can often be deductible.

Repairs or maintenance

Deductions claimed for repairs and maintenance is an area that the Tax Office always looks closely at so it’s important to understand the rules. An area of major confusion is the difference between repairs and maintenance, and capital works. While repairs and maintenance can be claimed immediately, the deduction for capital works is generally spread over a number of years.

Repairs must relate directly to the wear and tear resulting from the property being rented out. This generally involves a replacement or renewal of a worn out or broken part – for example, replacing damaged palings of a fence or fixing a broken toilet. The following expenses will not qualify as deductible repairs, but are capital: 

  • Replacement of an entire asset (for example, a complete fence, a new hot water system, oven, replacing a shower curtain with a glass wall, etc.)
  • Improvements and extensions.

Also remember that any repairs and maintenance undertaken to fix problems that existed at the time the property was purchased are not deductible.

 

 

Access to home guarantee scheme expanded to friends and siblings

From 1 July 2023, access to the Government’s Home Guarantee Scheme will be expanded to joint applications from “friends, siblings, and other family members” and to those who have not owned a home for at least 10 years.

The eligibility criteria for access to the First Home Guarantee Scheme and Regional First Home Buyers Scheme will be expanded. From 1 July 2023, the schemes will no longer be limited to individuals and couples who are married or in de facto relationships, but will also include eligible friends, siblings, and other family members for joint applications. In addition, the requirement for the applicants to be Australian citizens at the time they enter the loan has been extended to include permanent residents.

The schemes guarantee part of a first home owner’s home loan enabling them to purchase a home with as little as 5% deposit without paying Lenders Mortgage Insurance. Guarantees are capped at 15% of the value of the property. Thirty five thousand places are available for the First Home Guarantee Scheme each financial year. From 1 October 2022 there will be ten thousand places available each financial year until 30 June 2025 for the Regional First Home Buyers Scheme.

Eligibility to the Family Home Guarantee will also be extended. From 1 July 2025, the scheme will no longer be restricted to single parents with at least one dependant natural or adopted child, but will also be available to borrowers who are single legal guardians of dependent children such as aunts, uncles and grandparents.

The Family Home Guarantee guarantees the home loan of an eligible single parent with at least one dependent child enabling them to purchase a home with as little as 2% deposit without paying Lenders Mortgage Insurance. The guarantee is capped at 15% of the value of the property. Five thousand places are available to the scheme each year to 30 June 2025. 

 

Question of the month: Company loan to pay down the mortgage

A friend’s accountant suggested that they could reduce interest on non-deductible debt by using company cash to offset their personal mortgage, then transferring the cash back by 30 June. Is this an acceptable strategy?

This might initially sound like a brilliant strategy but what is really happening is that you are using company funds to derive a personal benefit. Doing this once might not attract attention, but doing this more than once might trigger a deemed unfranked dividend under Division 7A. Section 109R is designed for scenarios like this. If this occurs, the repayment you made will be ignored, meaning that a deemed dividend could be triggered in relation to the funds initially borrowed from the company unless a complying loan agreement is put in place, in which case minimum loan repayments would need to be made to prevent a deemed dividend from arising.

For example, let’s assume you are a shareholder of the company (or an associate of a shareholder) and you borrow money from the company on 1 July 2022. This loan would generally fall within the scope of Division 7A, but a deemed dividend can be avoided if the loan is fully repaid by the earlier of the due date and actual lodgement date of the company’s 2023 tax return.

However, if you repay the loan but it appears that you intend to borrow a similar or larger amount from the company when making the repayment then the repayment can be ignored. The main exception to this is where the repayment is made in a way that is taxable to the individual (e.g., dividends or directors’ fees are set-off against the loan balance).

One of the most common situations where section 109R could apply is where funds are taken from the company bank account and placed into a director’s home loan offset account. Even if the funds are transferred back to the company before the end of the year, there is a significant risk of section 109R applying if the pattern repeats. That is, the money will be treated as a dividend and taxed as assessable income.

 

Right to super to be enshrined in National Employment Standards

The Government has announced that it will enshrine a right to superannuation payments in the National Employment Standards (NES).

Currently, workers not covered by a modern award or an enterprise agreement containing a term requiring an employer to make superannuation contributions have to rely on the ATO to recover their lost superannuation entitlements.

By bringing the right to superannuation into the NES, workers will have the right to directly pursue superannuation owed to them. Employers may also face civil penalties if they do not comply with the entitlement.

Penalties of up to $82,500 per breach apply to companies that are found to have contravened the NES.

The ATO’s most recent estimate of unpaid superannuation indicates that workers lost $3.4 billion in unpaid super in 201920.

How Does Tax Apply to Electric Cars?

Just in time for the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) year that started on 1 April, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has released new details on electric vehicles.

The FBT exemption for electric cars

If your employer provides you with the use of a car that is classified as a zero or low emissions vehicle there is an FBT exemption that can potentially apply to the employer from 1 July 2022, regardless of whether the benefit is provided in connection with a salary sacrifice arrangement or not. The FBT exemption should normally apply where:

  • The value of the car is below the luxury car tax threshold for fuel efficient vehicles ($84,916 for 2022-23) when it was first purchased. If you buy an EV second-hand, the FBT exemption will not apply if the original sales price was above the relevant luxury car tax limit; and
  • The car is both first held and used on or after 1 July 2022. This means that the car could have been purchased before 1 July 2022, but might still qualify for the FBT exemption if it wasn’t made available to employees until 1 July 2022 or later.

The exemption also includes associated benefits such as:

  • Registration
  • Insurance
  • Repairs or maintenance, and
  • Fuel, including electricity to charge and run the vehicle.

But, it does not include a charging station (see How do the tax rules apply to home charging units?).

While the FBT exemption on EVs applies to employers, the value of the fringe benefit is still taken into account when working out the reportable fringe benefits of the employee. That is, the value of the benefit is reported on the employee’s income statement. While you don’t pay income tax on reportable fringe benefits, it is used to determine your adjusted taxable income for a range of areas such as the Medicare levy surcharge, private health insurance rebate, employee share scheme reduction, and certain social security payments.

Who the FBT exemption does not apply to

By its nature, the FBT exemption only applies where an employer provides a car to an employee. Partners of a partnership and sole traders are not employees and cannot access the exemption personally.

If you are a beneficiary of a trust or shareholder of a company, the exemption can only apply if the benefit is provided in your capacity as an employee or as a director of the entity (you need to be able to show you have an active role in the running of the entity).

How do the tax rules apply to home charging units?

The ATO has confirmed that charging stations don’t fall within the scope of the FBT exemption for electric cars. This means that FBT could be triggered if an employer provides a charging unit to an employee.

If an employee purchases a home charging unit then it might be possible to claim depreciation deductions for the cost of the unit over a number of income years if the unit is used to charge a vehicle that is used for income producing purposes. However, if an employee is only using the vehicle for private purposes then the cost of the charging unit is a private expense and not deductible.

What about the cost of electricity?

A friend of mine travels a lot for work and used to rack up large travel expenses…right up until he switched to an electric vehicle. Now it costs him 3 cents per km in electricity.

Because it is often difficult to distinguish home electricity usage, the ATO has set down a rate of 4.20 cents per km for running costs for EVs provided to an employee (from 1 April 2022 for FBT and 1 July 2022 for income tax).

If you use this rate, you cannot also claim any of the costs associated with costs incurred at commercial charging stations. It is one or the other, not both.

You also have the option of using actual electricity costs if you can calculate them accurately.

 

 

Selling a business? The pros and cons of earn-out clauses

Earn-out clauses for the sale of a business are increasingly common. We look at the positives and negatives that every business owner should consider.

Business transactions often include earn-out clauses where the vendors ‘earn’ part of the purchase price based on the performance of the business post the transaction. Typically, an earn-out will run for a period of one to three years post transaction date.

There are two main reasons to include an earn-out in a sale:

  1. To bridge a gap in the sale price expectations between the vendor and the purchaser. The earn out represents an ‘at risk’ form of consideration. If the business produces the result, the vendors are rewarded through a higher sale price.
  2. To incentivise the vendors who are continuing to work in the business and maintain the growth momentum of the business post sale.

Advantages of earn-outs include:

  • The ultimate sale price has a performance component to it – both buyer and seller benefit.
  • May assist in achieving a sale where a price impasse would otherwise prevent the sale.
  • If the calculation of the earn-out is transparent and easily measurable, there should be no dispute between the parties.
  • Creates equity where the business has lagging income, new business initiatives in play at the time of sale or a high growth rate.
  • The incremental sale price can be effectively funded by the business out of realised growth.

The key to an effective earn-out is in their construction, both from a commercial and a legal perspective. Get them right and they can enhance the continuity and succession of a business.

 

 

Company money: A guide for owners for owners

When you start up a business, inevitably, it consumes not just a lot of time but a lot of cash and much of this is money you have already paid tax on. So, it only seems fair that when the business is up and running the business can pay you back. Right?

There a myriad of ways owners look for payback from a company they have invested their time and money into it from dividends, salary and wages, jobs for sometimes underqualified family members to cash advances and personal expenses like school fees and nights out picked up as a company expense. But, once the cash is in the company, it is company money.

We look at the flow of money in and out of a company and the problems that trip business owners up.

Repaying money loaned to the company

If you have lent money to your company, you can draw this money back out as a loan repayment. The loan repayment is not deductible to the company but any interest payments made to you will be as long as the borrowed money has been used in the company’s business activities (assuming interest has actually been charged on the loan).

Conversely, any repayments made by the company on the loan principal are not income for tax purposes but you will need to declare any interest earned in your income tax return. All loans, including the loan term and repayments, should be documented.                      

Dividends: Paying out profits

Dividends basically represent company profits being paid out to the shareholders of a company. If the company has franking credits from income tax it has paid, the dividends might be franked and the credits can often be used by the shareholder to reduce their personal tax liability.

When a dividend is paid by a private company it must provide a distribution statement to the shareholders within four months after the end of the financial year. This gives private companies up to four months after the end of the financial year to work out the extent to which dividends will be franked.

If any of the shares in the company are held by a discretionary trust then there are some additional issues that will need to be considered, including whether the trust has a positive amount of net income for the year, whether the trust has made a family trust election for tax purposes and who will become entitled to distributions made by the trust for that year.

Repaying share capital

Many private companies are set up with a relatively small amount of share capital. However, if a company has a larger share capital balance then there might be scope for the company to undertake a return of share capital to the shareholders. Whether this is possible will depend on the terms of the company constitution and there are some corporate law issues that need to be addressed.

From a tax perspective, a return of share capital will normally reduce the cost base of the shares for CGT purposes, which means that a larger capital gain could arise on future sale of the shares but there won’t necessarily be an immediate tax liability. Having said that, there are some integrity rules in the tax system that need to be considered. The risk of these rules being triggered tends to be higher if the company has retained profits that could be paid out as dividends.

Shareholder loans, payments and forgiven debts: Using company money

There are some rules in the tax law (known as Division 7A) that determine how money taken out of a company is treated. Division 7A is a particularly tricky piece of tax law designed to prevent business owners accessing funds in a way that circumvents income tax. While amounts taken from a company bank account by the owners are often debited to a shareholder’s loan account in the financial statements, Division 7A ensures that any payments, loans, or forgiven debts are treated as if they were dividends for tax purposes unless there is a loan agreement in place which meets certain strict requirements. These ‘deemed’ dividends cannot normally be franked.

If you have taken money out of the company bank account then the main ways of avoiding this deemed dividend from being triggered are to ensure that the loan is fully repaid or placed under a complying loan agreement before the earlier of the due date and actual lodgement date of the company’s tax return for that year. To be a complying loan agreement the agreement requires minimum annual repayments to be made over a set period of time and there is a minimum benchmark interest rate that applies – currently 4.77% for 2022-23.

For example, if your company is paying school fees for your kids, or you take money out of the company bank account to pay down your personal home loan, if you don’t pay back this amount or put a complying loan agreement in place then this amount is likely to be treated as a deemed unfranked dividend. That is, you need to declare this amount in your personal income tax return as if it was a dividend and without the benefit of any franking credits. This means that even though the company might have already paid tax on this amount, you will be taxed on it again without the ability to claim a credit for the tax already paid by the company (causing double taxation of the same company profits).

The rules are very strict when it comes to loan repayments. If a repayment is made but the same amount or more is loaned to the shareholder shortly afterwards then there are some special rules that can apply to basically ignore the repayment. There are some exceptions to these rules and the position needs to be managed carefully to avoid adverse tax implications.

 

 

 

Update: Tax on super balances above $3m

In a very quick turnaround from announcement to draft legislation, Treasury has released the exposure draft legislation for consultation to enact the Government’s intention to impose a 30% tax on future superannuation fund earnings where the member’s total superannuation balance is above $3m.

The draft legislation confirms the Government’s intention to:

  • Impose the tax on member accounts with superannuation balances above $3 million from 1 July 2025 (not indexed); and
  • Apply the additional 15% tax to ‘unrealised gains’. This will mean that a tax liability will arise if the value of the assets goes up

Currently, all fund income is taxed at either 15%, or 10% for capital assets that have been held by the fund for more than 12 months. Unrealised gains, that is gains that are made because of changes in value, gains on paper, are not currently taxed – only when the gain is realised on sale or disposal of the asset.

If enacted, the legislation would mean that those impacted, could be paying tax on gains in value but without the cash from a sale to support the tax payment.

 

Budget 2023-24

The 2023-24 Federal Budget will be released on Tuesday, 9 May 2023. Look out for our update the next day on the important issues to you, your superannuation and your business.

Little has been released to date on the impending Budget beyond the tax on super balances above $3m and the decision not to extend the temporary $1,500 low and middle income tax offset beyond 30 June 2023.

Cost of living is a focus but on this, the Government is walking a tightrope between easing pressure without increasing inflation.

In the election cycle, if there is going to be a tightening, the mid-term Budgets are the time to do it. The Government will undoubtedly look at concessions provided within the tax system and whether those concessions meet their stated objective and when it comes to spending, potentially redraw the allocations. Some of the areas to watch include:

  • The legislated stage three tax cuts, that collapse the 32.5% and 37% tax brackets to a single rate of 30% for those with assessable income between $45,000 and $200,000 are not due to commence until 1 July 2024. The Government committed to keeping the tax cuts during the election and can bypass the issue until the 2024-25 Budget, but we’ll see.
  • Provision for announced defence spending.

Active support to develop a viable clean energy industry and transition to clean energy (see the joint submission from the Business Council of Australia, Australian Council of Trade Unions, World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation).

  • Productivity measures – Temporary full expensing – the productivity measure designed to encourage business investment that enables a business to fully expense the cost of depreciable assets in the first year of use – is set to expire on 30 June 2023. The Government will either extend, redevelop the small business instant asset write-off, or remove the concession altogether.
  • Technology and training boosts – In the 2022-23 Federal Budget, the former Government announced that it would provide certain business taxpayers with ‘bonus’ tax deductions for investing in employee training or improving digital operations. The Skills and Training Boost allows small businesses (aggregated turnover less than $50 million) to claim a 120% deduction for eligible expenditure incurred on external training for employees between 29 March 2022 and 30 June 2024. The Technology Investment Boost provides a 120% deduction for eligible expenses that are incurred for the purposes of improving digital operations or digitising business operations. This can include the cost of depreciating assets. The boost is aimed at costs incurred between 29 March 2022 and 30 June 2023 and is limited to a maximum bonus deduction of $20,000. But, the legislation enabling both boosts has not passed Parliament. There is an opportunity in the Budget to extend the scope and nature of the concession.