ATO guide to the 5 most common Tax Time mistakes – Further company tax cuts deferred (for now . . .) – Single Touch Payroll Update – Transacting with cryptocurrency

P r a c t i c e  U p d a t e

August 2018

 

Further company tax cuts deferred (for now . . .)

The Government has decided not to put the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017 to a vote in the Senate ... for the present point in time (it had already passed the House of Representatives without amendment).

The Bill aims to progressively extend the lower 27.5% corporate tax rate to all corporate tax entities by the 2023/24 financial year, and further reduce the corporate tax rate in stages so that, by the 2026/27 financial year, the corporate tax rate for all entities would be 25%.

Editor: Parliament resumes on 13 August 2018, coincidentally after some by-elections have taken place on 28 July . . .

 

Opposition confirms it won't repeal already legislated company tax cuts

Editor: Just in case the tax cut situation wasn't confusing enough, the leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, announced at a doorstop interview that, if elected, Labor would repeal the existing company tax cuts for companies with turnover between $10 and $50 million.

However, a few days later, after a Shadow Cabinet meeting, Mr Shorten confirmed that a Labor government would not touch business tax cuts that have already been legislated, due to the uncertainty that would generate. 

However, he reiterated that Labor does not support the further tax cuts for larger companies that may be legislated in the future.

 

ATO guide to the 5 most common Tax Time mistakes

As Tax Time 2018 has 'kicked off', the ATO has profiled the five most common mistakes they see, including taxpayers who are:

-   leaving out some of their income (e.g., forgetting a temp or cash job, capital gains on cryptocurrency, or money earned from the sharing economy);

-   claiming deductions for personal expenses (e.g., home to work travel, normal clothes or personal phone calls);

-   forgetting to keep receipts or records of their expenses (around half of the adjustments the ATO makes are because the taxpayer had no records, or they were poor quality);

-   claiming for something they never paid for – often because they think everyone is entitled to a ‘standard deduction’; and

-   claiming personal expenses for rental properties – either claiming deductions for times when they are using their property themselves, or claiming interest on loans used to buy personal assets like a car or boat.

ATO Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson reiterated the three 'golden rules' for work-related expenses: "You must have spent the money yourself and not have been reimbursed, it must be directly related to earning your income, and you must have a record to prove it."

 

 

Single Touch Payroll Update

Editor: Single Touch Payroll (STP) officially commenced for larger employers on 1 July 2018, and the ATO has provided some further guidance for affected entities.

The ATO is writing to employers who started reporting through STP before 1 July 2018, providing them with information about how their employees' payment summary for 2017/18 may change with STP, including the following:

-    They are not required to provide their employees with payment summaries for the information they report through STP (although they may choose to provide payment summaries for the first year of STP reporting).

-    'Income statements' will replace payment summaries.

-    Employees' income statements are available through pre-filling and myGov.

-    The income statement has three categories: 'Tax ready', 'Not tax ready' and 'Year-to-date'.  Only 'tax ready' income statements are complete and will be available through pre-filling.

-    Income statements may not be tax ready until 14 August this year.  Employers have until this date to finalise their STP data.

Editor: The ATO has also recognised that some employers may not have been ready to start STP reporting from 1 July 2018, and these employers (or their tax agent) may be able to apply for a deferral.

For example, employers that live in an area where there is no internet connection, or where the connection or service is intermittent or unstable, can apply for a deferral or even (in very limited circumstances) an exemption.

Please contact our office if you would like our assistance in this regard.

 

 

Cents per Km Deduction Rate for Car Expenses from 1 July 2018

The Commissioner of Taxation has determined that the rate at which work-related car expense deductions may be calculated using the cents per kilometre method is 68 cents per kilometre for the income year commencing 1 July 2018 (up from 66 cents per kilometre).

 

Suburban scammers pushing illegal early access to super

The ATO has become aware of people in some suburban areas of major cities attempting to encourage others to illegally access their super early (generally for a fee) to help them to purchase a car, to pay debts, to take a holiday, or to provide money to family overseas in need.

The ATO advises that anyone approached by someone telling them that they can access their super early, or anyone hearing about it from family, friends or work colleagues:

-   should not sign any documents nor provide them with any personal details;

-   stop any involvement with the scheme, organisation or the person who approached them; and

-   seek advice from a professional advisor or the ATO.

 

Transacting with cryptocurrency

Editor: With interest in cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) increasing, the ATO has issued guidance regarding various tax consequences of transactions involving cryptocurrencies.

Any capital gains made on the disposal of a cryptocurrency (including using the cryptocurrency or converting it to Australian dollars) may be taxed, although certain capital gains or losses from disposing of a cryptocurrency that is a 'personal use asset' are disregarded.

Cryptocurrency may be a personal use asset if it is kept or used mainly to purchase items for personal use or consumption (but the longer the period of time that a cryptocurrency is held, the less likely it is that it will be a personal use asset).

Note: If the cryptocurrency is held as an investment, the taxpayer will not be entitled to the personal use asset exemption but, if they hold the cryptocurrency as an investment for 12 months or more, they may be entitled to the CGT discount.

If the disposal is part of a business the taxpayer carries on, the profits made on disposal will be assessable as ordinary income and not as a capital gain.

Editor: The ATO has also provided guidance regarding the tax consequences of the loss or theft of cryptocurrency, as well as of 'chain splits'.

 

Please Note: Many of the comments in this publication are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information’s applicability to their particular circumstances.

Personal Income Tax Cuts passed! – Early release of super on compassionate grounds: ATO – Tax time tips for small business

Personal Income Tax Cuts passed!

Parliament has passed the Government's Personal Income Tax plan, meaning that the first stage of the proposed income tax cuts will start to take effect from 1 July 2018.

According to the Prime Minister, taxes "will now be lower, fairer and simpler".

The Government's plan has three steps:

1.    The Government will introduce the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset (in addition to the Low Income Tax Offset) from 1 July 2018, being a non-refundable tax offset of up to $530 per annum to Australian resident low and middle income taxpayers (apparently over 10 million taxpayers will get at least some tax relief from this new offset in 2019 income year). 

       The offset will be available for the 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 income years and will be received as a lump sum on assessment after an individual lodges their tax return.

2.    Lifting tax brackets, to protect Australians from the impact of ‘bracket creep’, as follows:

–   From 1 July 2018, the top threshold of the 32.5% personal income tax bracket will increase from $87,000 to $90,000. 

–   From 1 July 2022, the 19% personal income tax bracket will increase from $37,000 to $41,000, and the top threshold of the 32.5% personal income tax bracket will further increase from $90,000 to $120,000.

The low income tax offset will also be lifted to $645.

3.    The 37% tax bracket will be removed entirely from 1 July 2024, and the top threshold of the 32.5% personal income tax bracket will be increased from $120,000 to $200,000.

 

Early release of super on compassionate grounds: ATO

From 1 July 2018, responsibility for the administration of the early release of superannuation benefits on compassionate grounds will be transferred from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to the ATO.

 

Since the ATO is responsible for most of an individual's interactions with the superannuation system, this change will enable the ATO to build on these existing relationships and provide a more streamlined service to superannuation fund members.

 

A key improvement under the new process is the ATO providing electronic copies of approval letters to superannuation funds at the same time as to the applicant, which will mitigate fraud risk and negate the need for superannuation funds to independently verify the letter with the Regulator. 

 

Individuals will also upload accompanying documentation simultaneously with their application, rather than the current 'two-step process'.

 

Since DHS will accept early release applications up until 30 June 2018, there will be a short transition period where DHS will continue to process those existing applications and complete any necessary reviews. 

Nonetheless, from 1 July 2018 the ATO will process all new applications.

 

ATO putting clothing claims through the wringer

A focus on work-related clothing and laundry expenses this Tax Time will see the ATO "more closely examine taxpayers whose clothing claims don’t suit them".

According to Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson, around 6 million people claimed work-related clothing and laundry expenses last year, with total claims adding up to nearly $1.8 billion.

She went on to say:

"While many of these claims will be legitimate, we don’t think that half of all taxpayers would have been required to wear uniforms, protective clothing, or occupation-specific clothing.”

With clothing claims up nearly 20% over the last five years, the ATO believes a lot of taxpayers are either making mistakes or deliberately over-claiming. 

Common mistakes include people claiming ineligible clothing, claiming for something without having spent the money, and not being able to explain the basis for how the claim was calculated.

“Around a quarter of all clothing and laundry claims were exactly $150, which is the threshold that requires taxpayers to keep detailed records. We are concerned that some taxpayers think they are entitled to claim $150 as a ‘standard deduction’ or a ‘safe amount’, even if they don’t meet the clothing and laundry requirements,” Ms Anderson said.

“Just to be clear, the $150 limit is there to reduce the record-keeping burden, but it is not an automatic entitlement for everyone. While you don’t need written evidence for claims under $150, you must have spent the money, it must have been for uniform, protective or occupation-specific clothing that you were required to wear to earn your income, and you must be able to show us how you calculated your claim.”

Ms Anderson said the ATO also has conventional clothing in its sights this year. “Many taxpayers do wear uniforms, occupation-specific or protective clothing and have legitimate claims.  However, far too many are claiming for normal clothing, such as a suit or black pants.  Some people think they can claim normal clothes because their boss told them to wear a certain colour, or items from the latest fashion clothing line.  Others think they can claim normal clothes because they bought them just to wear to work.

“Unfortunately they are all wrong – you can’t claim a deduction for normal clothing, even if your employer requires you to wear it, or you only wear it to work”.

 

 Tax time tips for small business

The ATO claims that it is committed to supporting small businesses and making it as easy as possible for them to understand and meet their tax obligations at tax time.

Consequently, Assistant Commissioner Mathew Umina has some tips to help small business in the lead up to and during tax time, including:

u   keeping up-to-date records, which will help small businesses to complete and lodge their tax returns, manage cash flow, meet their tax obligations and understand how their business is doing;

  • consider small business tax concessions, such as:

–   simplified trading stock rules (if the estimate of the difference between opening and closing trading stock is $5,000 or less, the small business doesn't need to do a stocktake);

–   concessions that allow new small businesses to claim an immediate deduction for start-up costs like professional, legal and accounting advice;

–   simplified depreciation rules, including the $20,000 instant asset write-off for assets costing less than $20,000 bought and installed by 30 June 2018.

Please contact our office if you need any advice as to how any of the abovementioned small business tax concessions may be relevant to your business.

 

Please Note: Many of the comments in this publication are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information’s applicability to their particular circumstances.

Superannuation guarantee amnesty introduced – ATO scrutinising car claims this tax time – The First Home Super Saver Scheme

 

2018 Budget Update

The Government handed down the 2018/19 Federal Budget on Tuesday 8th May 2018.  Some of the important proposals include:

  • The introduction of the 'Low and Middle Income Tax Offset', a temporary non-refundable tax offset of up to $530 p.a. to Australian resident low and middle income taxpayers for the 2019 to 2022 income years. This offset will apply in addition to the Low Income Tax Offset.

  • Providing tax relief for individual taxpayers by progressively increasing some of the tax brackets (including an increase in the top threshold of the 32.5% personal income tax bracket from $87,000 to $90,000 from 1 July 2018), and eventually removing the 37% tax bracket entirely.

  • The $20,000 immediate write-off for small business will be extended by a further 12 months to 30 June 2019 (i.e., for businesses with aggregated annual turnover less than $10 million).

  • From 1 July 2019:

–      Increasing the maximum number of allowable members in an SMSF from four to six members;

–      Ensuring that unpaid present entitlements (or ‘UPEs’) come within the scope of Division 7A; and

–      Denying deductions for expenses associated with holding vacant residential or commercial land.

 

Superannuation guarantee amnesty introduced

The Government has introduced legislation to complement the superannuation guarantee ('SG') integrity package already before Parliament by introducing a one‑off, twelve month amnesty for historical underpayment of SG.

The Bill incentivises employers to come forward and "do the right thing by their employees" by paying any unpaid superannuation in full, as well as the high rate of nominal interest (but without the penalties for late payment that are normally paid to the Government by such employers).

Employers that do not take advantage of the amnesty will face higher penalties when they are subsequently caught – in general, a minimum 50% on top of the SG Charge they owe. 

In addition, throughout the amnesty period the ATO will still continue its usual enforcement activity against employers for those historical obligations they don't own up to voluntarily.

The amnesty will run for twelve months from 24 May 2018.

 

ATO scrutinising car claims this tax time

The ATO has announced that it will be closely examining claims for work-related car expenses this tax time as part of a broader focus on work related expenses.

Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said: 

“We are particularly concerned about taxpayers claiming for things they are not entitled to, like private trips, trips they didn’t make, and car expenses that their employer paid for or reimbursed.”

This is no doubt because over 3.75 million people made a work-related car expense claim in 2016/17 (totalling around $8.8 billion), and, each year, around 870,000 people claim the maximum amount under the cents-per-kilometre method.

Ms Anderson said that the ATO’s ability to identify claims that are unusual has improved due to enhancements in technology and data analytics: “Our models are especially useful in identifying people claiming things like home to work travel or trips not required as part of your job . . . simply travelling from home to work is not enough to qualify, no matter how far you live from your workplace.”

Ms Anderson said there are three golden rules for taxpayers to remember to get it right.

“One – you have to have spent the money yourself and can’t have been reimbursed, two – the claim must be directly related to earning your income, and three – you need a record to prove it.”

 

Case studies

False logbook

A traffic supervisor claimed over $11,000 for work related car expenses, and provided a logbook to substantiate his claim. 

However, upon investigation the ATO discovered that the logbook wasn’t printed until the following year – the taxpayer admitted the logbook was fraudulent and it was ruled invalid.

Even though the logbook was invalid, the taxpayer was able to provide other evidence to show that he had travelled at least 5,000 kilometres for work-related purposes, so the ATO used the cents per kilometre method to calculate the taxpayer’s deduction (but his claim was reduced from over $11,000 to under $4,000).

Claiming for home to work travel

A Laboratory Technician claimed $3,300 for work-related car expenses, using the cents per kilometre method for 5,000 kilometres. 

However, he advised that his employer did not require him to use his car for work; this claim was based on him needing to get to work.

The ATO advised the taxpayer that home to work travel is a private expense and is not an allowable deduction – his claim was reduced to nil and the ATO applied a penalty for failure to take reasonable care.

 

What the super housing measures mean for SMSFs

The ATO has reminded members of SMSFs that they will be able to use their voluntary super contributions to assist with buying their first home, or to make a contribution into their super from the proceeds of the sale of their main residence (under changes passed by Parliament in December 2017).

The First Home Super Saver Scheme

The First Home Super Saver (FHSS) Scheme allows SMSF members to save faster for a first home by using the concessional tax treatment available within super.

From 1 July 2018, SMSF members can apply to release certain voluntary concessional and non-concessional contributions made from 1 July 2017, along with associated earnings to help buy their first home.

Editor: There are various conditions that need to be met in order to take advantage of this measure – contact our office if you would like to know more.

The downsizing measure

SMSF members who are 65 or over and exchange a contract for sale of their main residence on or after 1 July 2018 may be eligible to make a downsizer contribution of up to $300,000 into their super.

This downsizer contribution won’t count towards their contributions caps or total super balance test in the year it’s made. 

However, it will count towards the transfer balance cap and be taken into account for determining eligibility for the age pension.

SMSFs must ensure the member's contribution has satisfied all relevant conditions and completed the downsizer contribution form before accepting a downsizing contribution.

 

Car limit for 2018/19

The car limit is $57,581 for the 2018/19 income year (unchanged from the previous year).  This amount limits depreciation deductions and GST input tax credits.

 

FBT: Car parking threshold

The car parking threshold for the FBT year commencing 1 April 2018 is $8.83.  

This replaces the amount of $8.66 that applied in the previous year commencing 1 April 2017. 

 

Please Note: Many of the comments in this publication are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information’s applicability to their particular circumstances.

Newsletter: April

New superannuation rates and thresholds released

The ATO has published the key superannuation rates and thresholds for the 2018/19 income year.

  •     The Non-Concessional Contributions cap will remain at $100,000 (although transitional arrangements may apply), and the Concessional Contributions cap will remain at $25,000.
  •     The CGT cap amount will be $1,480,000.
  •     The Division 293 tax threshold will be $250,000.
  •     The maximum super contribution base for superannuation guarantee purposes will be $54,030 per quarter.
  •     The maximum superannuation co-contribution entitlement for the 2018/19 income year will remain at $500 (with the lower income threshold increasing to $37,697 and the higher income threshold increasing to $52,697).

The superannuation benefit caps for the 2018/19 income year include:

  •     a low rate cap amount of $205,000;
  •     an untaxed plan cap amount of $1,480,000;
  •     a general transfer balance cap of $1.6m;
  •     a defined benefit income cap of $100,000;
  •     an ETP cap amount for life benefit termination payments and death benefit termination payments of $205,000; and
  •     the tax-free part of genuine redundancy payments and early retirement scheme payments comprising a base limit of $10,399 and for each complete year of service an additional $5,200.

 

Super guarantee payable on ‘public holidays’ and ‘additional hours’!

The Federal Court has held that superannuation guarantee contributions were payable with respect to the ‘additional hours’ and ‘public holidays’ component of annualised salaries paid by BlueScope Steel, on the basis that these particular components formed part of ordinary time earnings (‘OTE’). 

Under an enterprise agreement, primarily due to the specific working environment, the employees in question were required to be available (at short notice) 365 days per year and 24 hours per day, including a requirement to work additional hours and public holidays. 

As such, the employees were paid an annualised salary, which was made up of a base rate, as well as a component which absorbed all additional payments, such as penalty rates, allowances, public holiday loadings and pay-outs, and payment for additional hours worked outside the normal rostered hours.

However, when paying superannuation, adjustments were made to the annualised salary, so that the additional hours and public holiday components were not included by BlueScope Steel as OTE for superannuation guarantee purposes.

Decision

The Federal Court did not agree with the employer’s adjustments, instead finding that, under the circumstances, the ‘additional hours’ and ‘public holidays’ formed part of an employee’s ‘ordinary hours of work’ and, therefore, were considered OTE for superannuation guarantee purposes.

This remained the case whether or not the employee actually worked the additional hours or the public holidays.

That is, the ordinary conditions of the employee’s work required them to be available outside their rostered shifts and on public holidays (on short notice) and, as this was factored into their annual salary, they were considered ordinary hours for these particular employees.

 

Inactive ABNs will be cancelled by the ATO

The ATO has recently advised that, in an effort to maintain accurate data, the Australian Business Register (or ‘ABR’) periodically checks its records for Australian Business Numbers (‘ABNs’) and automatically cancels those that appear inactive. 

Ultimately, a taxpayer’s ABN may be cancelled if they: 

  •    have told the ATO they stopped their business activity;
  •    declared no business income in the last two years; or 
  •    have not lodged a BAS or an income tax return in more than two years. 

To avoid cancellation, the ATO has reminded taxpayers that they need to bring their lodgments up to date, and have reminded sole traders that, regardless of their income, they need to lodge the individual tax return with the supplementary section, as well as the business and professional items schedule. 

 

Commissioner’s speech highlights ATO’s focus areas

Recently, the Commissioner of Taxation highlighted the areas in which the ATO has recently increased its focus, including: 

  •     undeclared income;
  •     individuals' unexplained wealth or lifestyle;
  •     incorrectly claimed private expenses;
  •     unpaid superannuation guarantee; and
  •     cash-only businesses and those with low usage of merchant banking facilities, with black economy visits to over 2,600 businesses across 8 locations in 2017.

The Commissioner also highlighted ongoing ATO concern with respect to the predicted 'work-related expense claim gap', which (at least by the ATO’s estimates) could amount to being greater than the 'large corporate tax gap' of $2.5 billion of lost revenue. 

 

No need to actually 'downsize' for ‘downsizer contributions’

From 1 July 2018, individuals aged 65 or over may use the proceeds from the sale of an eligible dwelling that was their main residence to make superannuation contributions (referred to as ‘downsizer contributions’), up to a maximum of $300,000 per person (i.e., up to $600,000 per couple), without having to satisfy the age or gainful employment tests that usually apply.  

This measure was announced in the 2017/18 Federal Budget, and aims to provide an incentive for older Australians to ‘downsize’ their home.  

This, in turn, is expected to reduce pressure on housing affordability by freeing up stocks of larger homes for growing families.  

Importantly, it should be noted that there is no requirement for an individual to actually ‘downsize’ by acquiring a smaller property, or to even acquire another property at all.  

In this regard, all that is required is that the individual (or their spouse) ‘downsizes’ by selling their 'main residence'. 

The individual can then move into any living situation that suits them, such as aged care, a retirement village, a bigger or smaller dwelling than the one sold, a rental property, or living with family.

Also, the property sold does not need to have been the individual’s (or their spouse’s) main residence during their entire ownership of it, provided the property was owned for at least 10 years and was their main residence at some time during the ownership period.  Therefore, the sale of an investment property that at one stage was their main residence may enable an individual (or their spouse) to make downsizer contributions. 

Newsletter: March

Big changes proposed to eligibility for the CGT SBCs

The Treasurer has released draft legislation containing new "integrity improvements" to the CGT small business concessions ('SBCs') (i.e., including the 15-year exemption, the retirement exemption, the 50% active asset reduction and the small business roll-over).

Due to the government's "continued support for genuine small business taxpayers", it proposes making amendments so that the CGT SBCs can only be accessed in relation to assets used in a small business or ownership interests in a small business.

Predominantly, the amendments include additional basic conditions that must be satisfied for a taxpayer to apply the CGT SBCs to a capital gain arising in relation to a share in a company or an interest in a trust (i.e., a unit in a unit trust).

This integrity rule is designed to prevent taxpayers from accessing these concessions for assets which are unrelated to their small business, such as where taxpayers arrange their affairs so that their ownership interests in larger businesses do not count towards the tests for determining eligibility for the concessions.

Under the proposed amendments, the measure would be backdated to apply from 1 July 2017.  

Editor: The proposed amendments, if enacted as currently drafted, will significantly restrict access to the CGT SBCs where taxpayers owning shares in a company, or units in a unit trust, seek to dispose of their interests in the entity.

This will particularly be the case where such interests are held in an asset-owning entity (i.e., which holds and/or leases business assets across to a separate, yet related, business entity). 

It is to be hoped that the more draconian aspects of these measures may be scaled back, but due to the retrospective nature of the proposed amendments (i.e., from 1 July 2017), caution is warranted with respect to the SBCs in relation to the disposal of shares or units. 

 

ATO's focus on work-related expenses

This year, the ATO is paying close attention to what people are claiming as 'other' work-related expense deductions, so it's important when taxpayers claim these expenses that they have records to show:

n    they spent the money themselves and were not reimbursed;

n    the expense was directly related to earning their income; and

n    they have a record to prove it.

If the expense is for work and private use, the taxpayer can only claim a deduction for the work-related portion.

Importantly, taxpayers are not automatically entitled to claim standard deductions, but need to be able to show how they worked out their claims.

Editor: ‘Other’ work related expenses are expenses incurred by employees in relation to their work that are not for travel, clothing or self-education, such as home office expenses.

 

Taxpayer can't explain where she got the money to pay her expenses 

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has upheld amended assessments issued by the ATO to a beauty technician, based on the high volume of money passing through the taxpayer's various accounts when compared with the modest income she had included in her tax returns.

For example, in the 2015 income year, the taxpayer had declared income of $61,842, but the ATO’s analysis of her bank accounts, records of international money transfers, and casino data suggested she had spent $107,328.

The Tribunal noted that, in cases like this, the ATO is effectively making an "informed guess" as to the taxpayer’s income, but, provided there is a rational basis for the estimate, the ATO’s assessment will stand, unless the taxpayer can:

q    demonstrate the assessment was excessive; and

q    establish what the correct (or more nearly correct) figure is.

After hearing from the taxpayer and witnesses at the hearing, and after reviewing the documents, the Tribunal was not persuaded that the taxpayer had demonstrated that the Commissioner’s assessments were 'excessive'.

In particular, the taxpayer’s explanation regarding her income and expenditure was not supported by the objective facts in the hearing, being:

n    the 'churn' through her bank accounts; 

n    the absence of contemporaneous records beyond the bank accounts (for example, she was always paid in cash without receiving pay slips); and 

n    the deficiency in corroborating evidence from other witnesses.

In addition to upholding the amended assessments, the Tribunal was also satisfied that the ATO's 75% administrative penalty on top of the tax payable was properly imposed.

 

Uber driver not an 'employee'

In a recent case, an Uber driver's access to the Uber app had  been terminated as a result of failing to maintain an adequate overall rating, and he applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an unfair dismissal claim against Uber.

However, the FWC held that he was an independent contractor and not an 'employee', and therefore his application for unfair dismissal was dismissed.

Editor: Although this was not a tax case, it is obviously of interest to anyone involved in the 'gig economy', and it may have flow-on implications for other employment issues, such as super guarantee.

 

Government to fix a problem with reversionary TRISs 

The government has released draft legislation to ensure that a reversionary Transition to Retirement Income Stream (‘TRIS’) will always be allowed to automatically transfer to eligible dependants (i.e., upon the death of the primary recipient).  

Currently, a reversionary TRIS cannot transfer to a dependant if the dependant has not personally satisfied a condition of release.  

If this positive measure is legislated, it will apply to reversionary TRISs from 1 July 2017.  

 

New small business benchmarks are available

The ATO has updated its small business benchmarks with the latest data from the 2015/16 financial year.

In addition to helping businesses to see if they are performing within their industry average, the benchmarks are one of the tools the ATO uses to identify businesses that may be a higher risk. 

Editor: That is, they use the benchmarks to pick their audit targets, so please contact us if you would like us to check whether your data is inside or outside the average benchmark range for your industry.

 

Guide to the new Small Business Super Clearing House

The Small Business Superannuation Clearing House (SBSCH) joined the ATO's online services on 26 February 2018. 

This is intended to streamline how businesses use the SBSCH, and will also include extra functionality, such as the ability to sort employee listings and payment by credit card.

Editor: The SBSCH is a free service that businesses with 19 or fewer employees (or which are SBEs) can use to comply with their super obligations. 

 

Please Note: Many of the comments in this publication are general in nature and anyone intending to apply the information to practical circumstances should seek professional advice to independently verify their interpretation and the information’s applicability to their particular circumstances.

Newsletter: December

Parliamentary update

Editor: The ongoing citizenship saga in Parliament has resulted in the Government losing its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, thanks to the resignations of Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander.

By-elections have been scheduled in the relevant electorates and, in the meantime, some of the cross-benchers have guaranteed the Government's (current) survival by committing to vote with it on motions of no-confidence and supply.

Tax legislation passed

In other news, the Government has passed changes to the tax legislation that will limit, or deny, deductions for travel expenses and depreciation claims for certain residential premises.

Legislation to impose vacancy fees on foreign acquisitions of residential land has also been passed.

 

ATO relief for SMSFs reporting 'transfer balance account' events

The ATO has announced that, from 1 July 2018, SMSF event-based reporting regarding events impacting a member’s transfer balance account (i.e., via a Transfer Balance Account Report) will be limited to SMSFs with members with total superannuation balances of $1 million or more.

Editor: This new reporting is only required if an event that impacts a member’s transfer balance account actually occurs (e.g., such as starting an account based pension, or commuting such a pension). 

This effectively means that up to 85% of the SMSF population will not be required to undertake any additional reporting with respect to a member’s transfer balance cap, outside of current time frames (as SMSFs with members with account balances below $1 million can choose to simply report events which impact their members’ transfer balances when the fund lodges its SMSF annual return).

However, from 1 July 2018, SMSFs that have members with total superannuation account balances of $1 million or more will be required to report any events impacting members’ transfer balance accounts within 28 days after the end of the quarter in which the event occurs. 

Editor: Whilst SMSFs are not required to report anything to the ATO until 1 July 2018, SMSF trustees should be mindful that, where the $1.6 million transfer balance cap has been breached in respect of a member from 1 July 2017, any resulting tax liability will continue to accrue until the excess amount is commuted (i.e., irrespective of when reporting that breach is required).

 

ATO's annual closure

This year, the ATO's annual office closure is between noon Friday 22 December and 8.00am Tuesday 2 January 2018.

Also, the ATO may have systems maintenance on some weekends, so they recommend that lodgments be made as early as possible, as even returns or activity statements lodged in early December may not be finalised until after 2 January 2018.

 

 

Truck drivers' reasonable amounts for travel updated

Following detailed consultation with the transport industry, the ATO has amended their determination for travel expenses for truck drivers to provide separate reasonable travel allowance expense amounts for breakfast, lunch and dinner for employee truck drivers for the 2017/18 income year.

The reasonable amount for travel expenses (excluding accommodation) of employee truck drivers who have received a travel allowance and who are required to sleep away from home was originally reduced for 2017/18 to a total of $55.30 per day, but this daily rate has now been replaced with the following amounts for all domestic travel destinations for the 2017/18 income year:

            Breakfast         $24.25

            Lunch              $27.65

            Dinner              $47.70

The amounts for each of these meal breaks are separate and cannot be aggregated into a single daily amount, and amounts cannot be moved from one meal to another (e.g., if the full amount for breakfast is not expended, it cannot be carried over to lunch or dinner).

A driver's work diary (as maintained for fatigue management purposes) can be used to demonstrate when meal breaks were taken.

 

Tool for applying the margin scheme to a property sale

The ATO is recommending that taxpayers use their recently updated GST property decision tool to work out if GST applies to their property sales.

The tool can be used to determine GST on the sale, lease or purchase of real property, and was recently updated for easier use on mobile devices.

In particular, after providing the relevant information, the tool will generate a GST decision that:

  •   advises whether GST is payable on a sale;
  •   estimates the amount of GST payable when applying the margin scheme; and
  •   advises whether the taxpayer is eligible to claim input tax credits.

Note that the ATO does not record any personal information and users will remain anonymous.

Other GST News

The Government has released draft legislation on "improving the integrity of GST on property transactions", as announced in the 2017/18 Federal Budget.

They intend to amend the GST law so that, from 1 July 2018, purchasers will withhold the GST on the purchase price of new residential premises and new residential subdivisions, and remit the GST directly to the ATO as part of settlement.

This is to address tax evasion through "phoenixing arrangements", where developers collect GST from their customers but dissolve their company to avoid paying it to the ATO.

To provide certainty for contracts that have already been entered into, the draft legislation provides a two-year transitional arrangement – contracts entered into before 1 July 2018 will not be affected as long as the transaction settles before 1 July 2020.

Editor: In addition, the GST Act has been amended to ensure that supplies of digital currency receive equivalent GST treatment to supplies of money (particularly foreign currency).

 

Numerous work-related expense claims disallowed

The AAT has denied a taxpayer’s deductions for work-related travel, clothing, self-education and rental property expenses (totalling $116,068 and $140,581 for the 2013 and 2014 income year respectively), and upheld the ATO’s 50% administrative penalty on the tax shortfall for recklessness.

Apart from being unable to prove (or 'substantiate') some claims due to lack of receipts, and documents being in the wrong name, the AAT also criticised the taxpayer for:

  •   claiming work-related travel expenses on the basis of the 'gap' between travel expenses reimbursed by her employer and the ATO’s reasonable rates (which "was clearly not permissible under any taxation law"); and
  •   claiming clothing expenses for "formal clothes of high class”, despite her clothing not being distinctive or unique to her employment at the Department of Finance, and was instead rather conventional in nature (and so was not deductible).

Newsletter: October

No small business tax rate for passive investment companies

The Government has released draft tax legislation to clarify that passive investment companies cannot access the lower company tax rate for small businesses of 27.5%, but will still pay tax at 30%.

The amendment to the tax law will ensure that a company will not qualify for the lower company tax rate if 80% or more of its income is of a passive nature (such as dividends and interest).

The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services said the policy decision made by the Government to cut the tax rate for small companies was meant to lower taxes on business, and was not meant to apply to passive investment companies.

 

ATO to be provided with more super guarantee information

The Government has announced a package of reforms to give the ATO near real-time visibility over superannuation guarantee (SG) compliance by employers. 

The Government will also provide the ATO with additional funding for a SG Taskforce to crackdown on employer non-compliance.

The package includes measures to:

u      require superannuation funds to report contributions received more frequently (at least monthly) to the ATO, enabling the ATO to identify non-compliance and take prompt action;

u      require employers with 19 or fewer employees to transition to single touch payroll (‘STP’) reporting from 1 July 2019;

u      improve the effectiveness of the ATO’s recovery powers, including strengthening director penalty notices and use of security bonds for high-risk employers, to ensure that unpaid superannuation is better collected by the ATO and paid to employees’ super accounts; and

u      give the ATO the ability to seek court-ordered penalties in the most egregious cases of non-payment, including employers who are repeatedly caught but fail to pay SG liabilities.

Editor: Following extensive consultation when STP was originally announced, it was decided that employers with 19 or fewer employees would not be required to comply. 

Given the backflip here, the business community will be hoping the Government does not introduce compulsory real-time payments of SG and PAYG withholding, as well as real-time reporting.

 

 

 

ATO: Combatting the cash economy

The ATO has reminded taxpayers that it uses a range of tools to identify and take action against people and businesses that may not be correctly meeting their obligations.  Through 'data matching', it can identify businesses that do not have electronic payment facilities. 

These businesses often advertise as 'cash only' or mainly deal in cash transactions.  When businesses do this, they are more likely to make mistakes or do not keep thorough records. 

The ATO’s ability to match and use data is very sophisticated.  It collects information from a number of sources (including banks, other government agencies and industry suppliers), and also obtains information about purchases of major items, such as cars and real property, and then compares this information against income and expenditure reported by businesses and individuals to the ATO.

Example: Unrealistic personal income leads to unreported millions

The income reported on their personal income tax returns indicated that a couple operating a property development company didn’t seem to have sufficient income to cover their living expenses.

The ATO found their company had failed to report millions of dollars from the sale of properties over a number of years.

They had to pay the correct amount of tax (of more than $4.5 million) based on their income and all their related companies, and also incurred a variety of penalties.

Example: Failing to report online sales

A Nowra court convicted the owner of a computer sales and repair business on eight charges of understating the business’s GST and income tax liabilities.

The ATO investigated discrepancies between income reported by the business and amounts deposited in the business owner’s bank accounts, and found that the business had failed to report income from online sales.

The business owner was ordered to pay over $36,000 in unreported tax and more than $18,400 in penalties, and also fined $4,000 (and now has a criminal conviction).

Get it in writing and get a receipt

The ATO also notes that requesting a written contract or tax invoice and getting a receipt for payment may protect a consumer's rights and obligations relating to insurance, warranties, consumer rights and government regulations.

Consumers who support the cash economy, by paying cash and not getting a receipt, risk having no evidence to claim a refund if the goods or services purchased are faulty, or prove who was responsible in case of poor work quality

 

Higher risk trust arrangements targeted

The ATO’s 'Tax Avoidance Taskforce – Trusts' continues the work of the Trusts Taskforce, by targeting higher risk trust arrangements in privately owned and wealthy groups.

The Taskforce will focus on the lodgment of trust tax returns, accurate completion of return labels, present entitlement of exempt entities, distributions to superannuation funds, and inappropriate claiming of CGT concessions by trusts.

Arrangements that attract the attention of the Taskforce include those where:

q      trusts or their beneficiaries who have received substantial income are not registered, or have not lodged tax returns or activity statements;

q      there are offshore dealings involving secrecy or low tax jurisdictions;

q      there are agreements with no apparent commercial basis that direct income entitlements to a low-tax beneficiary while the benefits are enjoyed by others;

q      changes have been made to trust deeds or other constituent documents to achieve a tax planning benefit, with such changes not credibly explicable for other reasons;

q      there are artificial adjustments to trust income, so that tax outcomes do not reflect the economic substance (e.g., where someone receives substantial benefits from a trust but the tax liability on those benefits is attributed elsewhere, or where the full tax liability is passed to entities with no capacity/intention to pay);

q      transactions have excessively complex features or sham characteristics (e.g., round robin circulation of income among trusts);

q      revenue activities are mischaracterised to achieve concessional CGT treatment (e.g., by using special purpose trusts in an attempt to re-characterise mining or property development income as discountable capital gains); and

q      new trust arrangements have materialised that involve taxpayers or promoters linked to previous non-compliance (e.g., people connected to liquidated entities that had unpaid tax debts).

Newsletter: August

ATO warning regarding work-related expense claims for 2017

The ATO is increasing attention, scrutiny and education on work-related expenses (WREs) this tax time.

Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said: “We have seen claims for clothing and laundry expenses increase around 20% over the last five years.  While this increase isn’t a sign that all of these taxpayers are doing the wrong thing, it is giving us a reason to pay extra attention.”

Ms Anderson said common mistakes the ATO has seen include people claiming ineligible clothing, claiming for something without having spent the money, and not being able to explain the basis for how the claim was calculated.

“I heard a story recently about a taxpayer purchasing everyday clothes who was told by the sales assistant that they could claim a deduction for the clothing if they also wore them to work,” Ms Anderson said.

“This is not the case.  You can’t claim a deduction for everyday clothing you bought to wear to work, even if your employer tells you to wear a certain colour or you have a dress code.”

Ms Anderson said it is a myth that taxpayers can claim a standard deduction of $150 without spending money on appropriate clothing or laundry.  While record keeping requirements for laundry expenses are "relaxed" for claims up to this threshold, taxpayers do need to be able to show how they calculated their deduction.

The main message from the ATO was for taxpayers to remember to:

n          Declare all income;

n          Do not claim a deduction unless the money has actually been spent;

n          Do not claim a deduction for private expenses; and

n          Make sure that the appropriate records are kept to prove any claims.

 

GST applies to services or digital products bought from overseas

From 1 July 2017, GST applies to imported services and digital products from overseas, including:

u         digital products such as streaming or downloading of movies, music, apps, games and e-books; and

u         services such as architectural, educational and legal.

Australian GST registered businesses will not be charged GST on their purchases from a non-resident supplier if they:

q         provide their ABN to the non-resident supplier; and

q         state they are registered for GST.

However, if Australians purchase imported services and digital products only for personal use, they should not provide their ABN.

Imposition of GST on 'low-value' foreign supplies

Parliament has passed legislation which applies GST to goods costing $1,000 or less supplied from offshore to Australian consumers from 1 July 2018.

Using a 'vendor collection model', the law will require overseas suppliers and online marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay) with an Australian GST turnover of $75,000 or more to account for GST on sales of low value goods to consumers in Australia.

The deferred start date gives industry participants additional time to make system changes to implement the measure.

Editor: It should be noted that this is a separate measure to that which applies GST to digital goods and services purchased from offshore websites, as outlined above.

 

New threshold for capital gains withholding

From 1 July 2017, where a foreign resident disposes of Australian real property with a market value of $750,000 or above, the purchaser will be required to withhold 12.5% of the purchase price and pay it to the ATO unless the seller provides a variation (this is referred to as 'foreign resident capital gains withholding').

However, Australian resident vendors who dispose of Australian real property with a market value of $750,000 or above will need to apply for a clearance certificate from the ATO to ensure amounts are not withheld from their sale proceeds.

Therefore, all transactions involving real property with a market value of $750,000 or above will need the vendor and purchaser to consider if a clearance certificate is required.

 

Action to address super guarantee non-compliance

The Government will seek to legislate to close a loophole that could be used by unscrupulous employers to short‑change employees who choose to make salary sacrificed contributions into their superannuation accounts.

The Government will introduce a Bill into Parliament this year that will ensure an individual’s salary sacrificed contributions do not reduce their employer’s superannuation guarantee obligation.

 

Change to travel expenses for truck drivers

Editor: The ATO has released its latest taxation determination on reasonable travel expenses, and it includes a big change for employee truck drivers.

For the 2017/18 income year, the reasonable amount for travel expenses (excluding accommodation expenses, which must be substantiated with written evidence) of employee truck drivers who have received a travel allowance and who are required to sleep away from home is $55.30 per day (formerly a total of $97.40 per day for the 2016/17 year).

If an employee truck driver wants to claim more than the reasonable amount, the whole claim must be substantiated with written evidence, not just the amount in excess of the reasonable amount.

Editor: The determination includes an example of a truck driver who receives a travel allowance of $40 per day in 2017/18 ($8,000 over the full year for 100 2-day trips), but who spent $14,000 on meals on these trips.

 

In terms of claiming deductions for these expenses, he can either claim $14,000 as a travel expense (if he kept all of his receipts for the food and drink he purchased and consumed when travelling), or just rely on the reasonable amount and claim $11,060 ($55.30 x 200 days) as a travel expense (in which case he will need to be able to show (amongst other things) that he typically spent $55 or more a day on food and drink when making a trip (for example, by reference to diary entries, bank records and receipts that he kept for some of the trips)).

 

Car depreciation limit for 2017/18

The car limit for the 2017/18 income year is $57,581 (the same as the previous year).  This amount limits depreciation deductions and GST input tax credits.

Example

In July 2017, Laura buys a car to which the car limit applies for $60,000 to use in carrying on her business.    As Laura started to hold the car in the 2017/18 financial year, in working out the car’s depreciation for the 2017/18 income year, the cost of the car is reduced to $57,581.

 

Div.7A benchmark interest rate

The benchmark interest rate for 2017/18, for the purposes of the deemed dividend provisions of Div.7A, is 5.30% (down from 5.40% for 2016/17).

Newsletter: July

Removal of the Temporary Budget Repair Levy from the 2017/18 income year

The 2% Temporary Budget Repair Levy (or ‘TBRL’), which has applied to individuals with a taxable income exceeding $180,000 since 1 July 2014, is repealed with effect from 1 July 2017. 

Up until 30 June 2017, including the TBRL and the Medicare Levy, individuals earning more than $180,000 faced a marginal tax rate of 49%.

With the benefit of the removal of the 2% TBRL, from 1 July 2017, individuals with a taxable income exceeding $180,000 face a marginal tax rate of 47% (including the Medicare Levy). 

Editor: Don’t forget to add another 1.5% for the Medicare Levy Surcharge for certain individuals that don’t have Private Health Insurance.

 

Simpler BAS is coming soon

The ATO is reducing the amount of information needed to be included in the business activity statement (or ‘BAS’) to simplify GST reporting.

From 1 July 2017, Simpler BAS will be the default GST reporting method for small businesses with a GST turnover of less than $10 million.

In relation to GST, small businesses will only need to report:

G1 - Total sales

1A - GST on sales

1B - GST on purchases.

This will not change a business’ reporting cycle, record keeping requirements, or the way a business reports other taxes on its BAS.

Simpler BAS is intended to make it easier for businesses to lodge their BAS.  It should also reduce the time spent on form-filling and making changes that don't impact the final GST amount.

The ATO will automatically transition eligible small business' GST reporting methods to Simpler BAS from 1 July 2017.

Small businesses can choose whether to change their GST accounting software settings to reduce the number of GST tax classification codes.

Editor:  Call our office if you need help with the transition to Simpler BAS or to decide whether your business will use reduced or detailed GST tax code settings in its GST accounting software.

 

Changes to the foreign resident withholding regime for sales of Australian real estate

Since 1 July 2016, where a foreign resident has disposed of real estate located in Australia, the purchaser has had to withhold 10% of the purchase price upon settlement and remit this amount to the ATO, where the market value of the property was $2,000,000 or greater. 

As a result of another 2017/18 Budget Night announcement becoming law, in relation to acquisitions of real estate that occur on or after 1 July 2017, the withholding rate has increased to 12.5% and the market value of the real estate, below which there is no need to withhold, has been reduced to $750,000. 

Editor:  Unfortunately, even if a sale of real estate with a market value of $750,000 was to take place between two siblings on or after 1 July 2017 (both of whom have been Australian residents for 50 plus years), withholding must occur unless the vendor obtains a ‘clearance certificate’ from the ATO – despite the two siblings clearly knowing the residency status of each other!

These changes highlight the need to obtain clearance certificates where the vendor is an Australian resident and the real estate is worth $750,000 or more - not a high exemption threshold given the sky-rocketing values of Australian real estate!  If you are buying or selling real estate worth $750,000 or more (including a residential property, i.e., home) please call our office to see if a clearance certificate is needed.

Change to deductions for personal super contributions

Up until 30 June 2017, an individual (mainly those who are self-employed) could claim a deduction for personal super contributions where they meet certain conditions. One of these conditions is that less than 10% of their income is from salary and wages.  This was known as the “10% test”.

From 1 July 2017, the 10% test has been removed.  This means most people under 75 years old will be able to claim a tax deduction for personal super contributions (including those aged 65 to 74 who meet the work test).

Editor: Call our office if you need assistance in relation to the application of the work test for a client that is aged 65 to 74.

Eligibility rules

An individual can claim a deduction for personal super contributions made on or after 1 July 2017 if:

  •          A contribution is made to a complying super fund or a retirement savings account that is not a Commonwealth public sector superannuation scheme in which an individual has a defined benefit interest or a Constitutionally Protected Fund;
  •          The age restrictions are met;
  •          The fund member notifies their fund in writing of the amount they intend to claim as a deduction; and
  •          The fund acknowledges the notice of intent to claim a deduction in writing.

Concessional contributions cap

Broadly speaking, contributions to super that are deductible to an employer or an individual, count towards an individual’s 'concessional contributions cap'. 

The contributions claimed by an individual as a deduction will count towards their concessional contributions cap, which for the year commencing 1 July 2017 is $25,000, regardless of age.  If an individual’s cap is exceeded, they will have to pay extra tax.

Editor:  Call our office to discuss the eligibility criteria and tax consequences of claiming a tax deduction for a personal contribution to super for the year commencing 1 July 2017.

Newsletter: May

Company tax cuts pass the Senate with amendments

Editor: After a marathon few days of extended sittings (the last before the Federal Budget in May), the Government finally managed to get its company tax cuts through the Senate, but it was not without compromise.

The following outlines the final changes to the law, as passed by the Senate, including a recap of which of the original proposals remained intact and also which ones were changed.

Changes to the franking of dividends

Prior to this income year, companies that paid tax on their taxable income at 28.5% could still pass on franking credits to their shareholders at a rate of 30%, subject to there being available franking credits.

However, with effect from 1 July 2016 (i.e., this income year), the maximum franking credit that can be allocated to a frankable distribution paid by a company will be based on the tax rate that is applicable to the company. 

Editor: Please contact this office if you would like to know how these changes will affect your business specifically.

Costs of travelling in relation to the preparation of tax returns

The ATO has released a Taxation Determination confirming that the costs of travelling to have a tax return prepared by a “recognised tax adviser” are deductible. 

In particular, a taxpayer can claim a deduction for the cost of managing their tax affairs. 

However, apportionment may be required to the extent that the travel relates to another non-incidental purpose.

Example – Full travel expenses deductible

Maisie and John, who are partners in a sheep station business located near Broken Hill, travel to Adelaide for the sole purpose of meeting with their tax agent to finalise the preparation of their partnership tax return. 

They stay overnight at a hotel, meet with their tax agent the next day and fly back to Broken Hill that night. 

The full cost of the trip, including taxi fares, meals and accommodation, is deductible.

Example – Apportionment required

Julian is a sole trader who carries on an art gallery business in Oatlands.

He travels to Hobart for two days to attend a friend's birthday party and to meet his tax agent to prepare his tax return, staying one night at a hotel.

Because the travel was undertaken equally for the preparation of his tax return and a private purpose, Julian must reasonably apportion these costs.

In the circumstances, it is reasonable that half of the total costs of travelling to Hobart, accommodation, meals, and any other incidental costs are deductible.

Editor: Although the ATO's Determination directly considers the treatment of travel costs associated with the preparation of an income tax return, the analysis should also apply where a taxpayer is travelling to see their tax agent in relation to the preparation of a BAS, or another tax related matter.