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‘How will the ATO possibly know?’: Tax Office cracks the whip on crypto transactions

ATO warning letters highlighting cryptocurrency tax discrepancies have now hit Australian mailboxes as the Tax Office acts on the “fruit of its labour”.

Tax&Compliance Jotham Lian 09 March 2020
— 2 minute read

The ATO’s cryptocurrency data-matching program, announced in May last year, has now resulted in an undisclosed number of letters being sent out to taxpayers, warning them to come clean with their capital gains or losses.

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Cryptocurrency records relating to up to one million individuals have been estimated to have been obtained by the ATO, with taxpayers given 28 days to clarify their information before compliance action begins.

In letters seen by Accountants Daily, the ATO states: “Information provided to us indicates you may have disposed of cryptocurrency in the [X] financial year.

“If you exchanged cryptocurrency for goods, cash or other cryptocurrencies, then this is normally considered a disposal for the purposes of capital gains tax.

“We’re giving you the chance to fix any mistakes now. If we audit you and find you haven’t reported your capital gain or loss correctly, we may charge you a penalty.”

H&R Block director of tax communications Mark Chapman, who has seen a number of clients walk in with such letters over the past week, said the game is up for Australians who believe they can escape their tax obligations when it comes to cryptocurrency trading.

“A common myth is that there are no tax implications or that the ATO will never know what you’re doing because cryptocurrency is, of course, an entirely online transaction, typically done through offshore exchanges,” Mr Chapman told Accountants Daily.

“And a lot of people think, well, how can you possibly know what’s going on with these things because Im not doing anything in Australian dollars; that it is with this notional online electronic currency so the ATO will never know about it. 

“Of course, as were seeing now, the ATO does know about it because they get the information from the currency exchanges in the same way they do with a lot of other data-matching programs.”

While taxpayers who are certain their income tax return is correct have nothing to worry about, those who have failed to report a capital gain or loss will be required to amend their tax returns within 28 days or face potential penalties.

Mr Chapman believes a longstanding myth around the CGT personal use exemption has led to a number of taxpayers failing to disclose their cryptocurrency transactions to their tax agent or from including it in their tax returns.

“The problem with cryptocurrencies is that there are a lot of myths around the tax treatment of these things,” Mr Chapman said.

“For instance, a common myth is if youve spent less than $10,000 on a cryptocurrency, you dont have to pay capital gains tax because this thing called a personal use exemption applies, but thats not true, unless you are actually using the cryptocurrencies for personal use. 

“So, if youre actually going to go out and spend it on stuff, then you might be able to claim that, but in most cases, people are buying cryptocurrencies with a view to either trading in them or as an investment, so that CGT exemption simply doesnt apply.

“Thats a very common myth around cryptocurrencies, which probably needs to be dispelled. Its been around for a few years now.”

Mr Chapman also believes accountants will have to be on the front foot and start asking clients about their cryptocurrency transactions.

“A lot of clients dont understand that there are any tax implications, so they dont mention it to their tax agent,” he said.

“So, the agent probably needs to be a little bit more proactive in terms of quizzing the client as to whether theyve done anything in that space and teasing the information out and basically pulling them right in terms of the tax implications.”

‘How will the ATO possibly know?’: Tax Office cracks the whip on crypto transactions
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Jotham Lian

Jotham Lian

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.

You can email Jotham at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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