Small business, big tax problem

Over 60 per cent of the debt on the Australian Taxation Office's (ATO's) books is owed by small business, according to the Tax Commissioner, Chris Jordan.

Addressing a Council of Small Business Organisations (COSBOA) conference, Jordan said over one million small businesses owed debts amounting to over $11 billion in total.

"This is a significant problem, both for the small businesses involved and the ATO," he said.

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"Our experience has shown that, when a business accumulates a debt to us, we're usually not the only ones," Jordan said. "They may not pay their bills to other small businesses like yours. They may not pay super to their workers. Not only that, they are potentially operating with an unfair competitive advantage by not treating tax as an expense of their businesses."

The Tax Commissioner said it was obviously in everyone's interests that viable businesses, even when they fall behind, had a chance to continue.

"Part of my job is to balance the need to collect debt with helping small businesses manage it. We are taking a much closer look at the overall viability of the business in assessing what actions we should take," he said.

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