JobKeeper guidance helps set practical ground rules

The latest Australian Tax Office (ATO) guidelines on when the integrity rules in the JobKeeper legislation will – or will not – apply comes as accountants are under pressure from struggling businesses to access it.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey found 61% of businesses had registered or intended to register for the JobKeeper Payment scheme and 73% of those expected more than half their employees to be eligible.

Michael Croker, tax leader and Chartered Accountants Australian and New Zealand (CA ANZ), said the ATO’s Practical Compliance Guidelines PCG 2020/4 dealt with arrangements that could be considered schemes to exploit JobKeeper.

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“The guidelines give accountants and their clients some valuable insights into the ATO’s thinking on various scenarios that we have put to them,” Croker said.

The guidance said the tax commissioner would look at the context of the business and ask if it had been significantly impacted by external factors beyond its control and were the actions in excess of those that would maintain pre-existing employment relationships.

“Accountants worry about the ‘do-it-yourself’ JobKeeper and Cashflow Boost applicant who makes contact a few months from now seeking expert help, saying the ATO has questioned the entitlement to COVID-19 support,” Croker said.

“Overpayments can be clawed back by the ATO with penalties and interest.”

Additional JobKeeper legislative rules were published with the treasurers announces on 24 April and another was expected to be published dealing with superannuation aspects of JobKeeper.

Summary of ATO’s guidance on JobKeeper schemes

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One of the big problems with JobKeeper is that in uncertain times employers are expected to rely on govt assurances it will be implemented fairly and reasonably and in the spirit of the legislation.

However businesses know from bitter experience that some bureaucrats relish the opportunity to find fault for the most minor of oversights or admin errors. Too many bureaucrats regard businesses as their ideological enemies who need to be "punished" for their very existence. Somehow Australia has developed a large bureaucratic subculture of unaccountable, ideological zealots, who are not acting in the best interests of society and cannot be trusted. For many businesses it is easier to just not bother with JobKeeper, than to risk persecution from this lot.

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