The NSW government has begun engaging with the accounting professional bodies in a bid to resolve technical issues plaguing its COVID-19 support measures, but for some, more could have been done sooner.
NSW opens consultation with accountants to resolve grant hiccups
The Tax Institute, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, CPA Australia, and the Institute of Public Accountants are now meeting with Service NSW and NSW Treasury regularly to work through a list of issues affecting its COVID-19 business support measures.
The open lines of communication come weeks after the COVID-19 business grant, micro-business grant and the JobSaver payment were first launched, with accountants and businesses left frustrated by ever-changing guidelines that fail to cater to a variety of business scenarios.
Robyn Jacobson, senior advocate at The Tax Institute, said the open engagement should result in clearer outcomes for practitioners and their clients.
“The guidance will continue to be updated, but these further changes are necessary to ensure that various uncertain aspects of the eligibility conditions are clarified,” said Ms Jacobson.
“Our conversations with NSW Treasury will help ensure that these changes are communicated effectively and expeditiously so that accountants can support their clients during this difficult time.”
According to Service NSW, 208,775 applications worth $1.6 billion in financial support have now been approved for payment, out of a total of 271,896 applications seeking $2.3 billion.
A further 3,316 applications worth $26 million have been declined, while 59,805 applications worth $669 million have yet to be assessed.
The IPA’s Tony Greco believes that active engagement with the NSW government will help speed up application processing as advisers and their clients are given more certainty on their eligibility.
“It’s a win-win situation and we are looking forward to helping identify and resolve some of the technical uncertainties that are delaying progress on support applications,” said Mr Greco.
CA ANZ’s tax leader, Michael Croker, has urged practitioners to continue sending their issues or concerns to their professional body to relay to Service NSW.
“The external members of the working group are constantly in contact with each other, acting like a triage unit to identify the most urgent matters to NSW officials together with suggested solutions,” said Mr Croker. “We hope our members see improved outcomes very soon.”
For CPA Australia’s Gavan Ord, the engagement with the NSW government has come not before time.
“Business support programs are still being launched in haste with little or no consultation with accountants and bookkeepers — the people who have to make the process work for business,” said Mr Ord.
“This is leading to our members having to pick through vague grant guidelines, creating flawed outcomes for businesses.
“If we’d been consulted early and meaningfully — and this goes for every state and territory program — we could have helped design programs that were fit for purpose from the day they opened.”
Mr Ord said consultations with other state and territory governments, including Victoria, the ACT and Queensland, have also improved, but believes a co-ordinated national approach should be considered when designing COVID-19 support programs.
He pointed to practitioners with clients in different states and territories having to contend with a variety of guidelines and requirements — an issue that could be resolved through a national framework.
“Governments are creating a patchwork of grant programs, each with different eligibility and application requirements, which don’t recognise that businesses and accountants operate across borders,” said Mr Ord.
“This is a national crisis and warrants a national response. As long as this hodgepodge approach goes on, the headache will continue for the accounting profession.”