With JobKeeper requiring businesses to work out their projected turnover decline to determine eligibility, there have been concerns from employers that the ATO might come knocking when their actual turnover reveals a healthier figure.
ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn told a Senate inquiry he was aware of community concerns that the ATO might be “nit-picking” when it comes to the decline in turnover test.
“In the legislation, it asks people to make a reasonable estimate and a reasonable estimate is what is sufficient,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“If it ultimately turns out that the estimate was overly pessimistic and a business only went down 29 per cent, instead of an estimated 35 per cent, that is OK; what the legislation requires is a reasonable estimate.
“Obviously, there are a range of consequences if people apply and they are not eligible, but where people make a good-faith estimate to comply and a good-faith decision that they are eligible, the commissioner will be very understanding and sympathetic to their position, particularly where they have passed the benefit of the JobKeeper payment to their employees.
“What the legislation and what we are asking of businesses is to make a good-faith effort and that when we consider their good-faith effort, even if it is a little bit wrong, we’ll be very sympathetic and understanding of their position.”
ATO COVID-19 taskforce chair Jeremy Geale also reaffirmed the agency’s approach, as documented in its recently published LCR 2020/1.
“In terms of our attitude to compliance, this program is about helping Australians who are experiencing financial difficulty and it is not drawn at the hard line in terms of 30 per cent where I go out and investigate the person who is sitting at 29.95 per cent,” Mr Geale said.
“The focus is on people who will be deliberately rorting the system.”
More than 768,000 businesses, covering 5 million employees, have now enrolled for the JobKeeper payment.
Treasury deputy secretary Jenny Wilkinson told the inquiry that the enrolments were broadly in line with its expectations, while defending its use of GST turnover as an eligibility metric.
“One of the things important to do to ensure the integrity of the scheme was to use metrics already available to the ATO,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“Using GST turnover comparing either April this year with April last year, or the June quarter this year with the June quarter last year, made a big difference to the integrity issues when designing a scheme like this because the data that is already available is well defined and the historic data exists.
“There are well-defined processes for how you actually measure GST turnover and any move away from existing measures or existing metrics would raise some integrity issues.”
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.