Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and CPA Australia have now issued a joint statement calling for the government to fund a voucher scheme to ensure small businesses will be able to access professional advice on their viability once COVID-19 stimulus measures end in September.
With JobKeeper scheduled to end on 27 September, the joint bodies warn that businesses will have less than three months to plan for their future, at a time where they may not have the cash flow to secure such professional advice.
“Business owners must now start considering how they will operate after the financial lifeline provided by the government ends,” the joint bodies said.
“With cash flow tight, many businesses may not seek out advice, imperilling their future.
“To encourage small businesses to ask for much-needed help, we propose the government provide them with a voucher that they can redeem for professional advice.”
The voucher proposal has now been backed by Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell, who believes a $5,000 voucher will encourage businesses to seek help from accountants.
“Small businesses with cash-flow issues, compounded by falling revenue, may find getting the professional financial advice they need unaffordable. The ramifications of this could be devastating, both for the business and its owner and family, down the line,” Ms Carnell said.
“[The voucher program] would ensure small businesses have access to expertise in judging business viability so they can make an informed decision about whether to turn their business around or exit.”
Professional advice has been widely sought during the COVID-19 crisis, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that three in five businesses had sought advice from accountants, lawyers and bankers as they looked to deal with the changing economic landscape.
The joint bodies believe businesses will require ongoing support as they navigate the road to recovery, including dealing with possible speed bumps such as reinstated restrictions being enforced in Melbourne and the looming “economic cliff” in September.
“Now is not the time to assume businesses are in the clear and to take our eye off the support needs of small business,” the joint bodies said.
“Businesses have a short window in which to revitalise their operations, with professional advisers playing a key role in determining the best course of action to create jobs, identify efficiencies and restore growth.
“Now, more than ever, businesses need professional advice to see them through this crisis.”
Shadow minister for small business Brendan O’Connor, who had earlier written to Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar to propose a similar voucher scheme, has doubled down on his request.
“The scheme would help businesses access professional and accurate information on how to access support, including advice on interactions with the ATO,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Concerning reports have emerged that thousands of small businesses who applied for JobKeeper were approved by the ATO, and subsequently paid their employees at the JobKeeper rate, may be forced to repay the wage subsidies.
“We are still yet to hear back from Mr Sukkar. Perhaps, if the government listened to our suggestion, those businesses who now find themselves in trouble with the ATO may have had access to the right advice.”
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.