Service NSW has been urged to stop tweaking the rules around its COVID-19 business support measures, as accountants struggle to keep up with ever-evolving and inconsistent guidelines.
‘This has to stop’: Service NSW faces backlash over changing guidelines
The state agency responsible for administering the COVID-19 Business Grant, Micro-business Grant and the JobSaver payment has now changed its alternative turnover comparison period from 11 to 25 June 2021 to 12 to 25 June 2021 to ensure the period was 14 days instead of 15 days.
The tweak comes just days after Service NSW introduced two alternative comparison periods for determining the decline in turnover.
Service NSW has also removed the word “national” that preceded the term “aggregated annual turnover” throughout the guidelines, and removed the requirement that a business must be GST-registered to apply for financial support.
It has also changed the accountant’s letter template for the COVID-19 Business Grant and the Micro-business Grant to specify that accountants will have to certify that the decline in turnover of a business is due to the public health order.
The Tax Institute’s senior advocate, Robyn Jacobson, said it was disappointing to see the rules still being changed seven weeks into the state’s lockdown.
She said the ever-evolving guidelines meant businesses were left wondering if they were eligible for any support, while putting practitioners on the backfoot when advising clients.
“This has to stop,” Ms Jacobson told Accountants Daily. “Accountants and businesses, who have been extremely agile and accommodating as the intermediaries throughout the pandemic, are frustrated with the lack of certainty on the eligibility requirements for the NSW COVID-19 support measures.
“We certainly acknowledge the challenge faced by the NSW government, which has had to quickly respond to the fluid health situation, but it is equally challenging to correctly advise businesses when the rules keep changing.”
Ms Jacobson, who has been tracking the guidelines since they were first released, said changes were often unannounced and updated at different times, and in some cases, reflected in one form of web guidance but not another, making it hard to determine the correct position.
She said the most recent changes were significant, particularly the changes to the accountant’s letter template.
“While accountants are comfortable with certifying a mathematical decline in turnover, a number of members of The Tax Institute have provided feedback that they consider the new certification unreasonable, or feel they are not in a position to certify that the decline in turnover is due to the public health order,” said Ms Jacobson.
The changes to the turnover comparison period and the aggregated turnover definition could also have a significant impact on a business’s eligibility, with Ms Jacobson noting that Service NSW had failed to provide advice to businesses who had applied for the support payments based on previous guidelines.
“There is still no clear pathway for businesses who have applied for support based on a previous version of the guidelines, but under the revised guidelines may be entitled to a greater level of support, less support or may indeed now be ineligible,” said Ms Jacobson.
“It is not clear how these businesses should request a review of or amend their submitted applications so that they reflect the revised rules.
“We are seven weeks into the NSW lockdown, yet some businesses in financial distress are yet to apply because of the uncertainty surrounding their eligibility. What is most important is for the money to flow to these businesses as soon as possible.”
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