The ATO estimates that incorrect reporting of rental property income and expenses is costing around $1 billion each year in forgone tax revenue. A big part of the problem is how taxpayers are claiming interest on their investment property loans.
We’ve seen an uptick in ATO activity focussing on refinanced or redrawn loans. This activity is a result of a major data matching program of residential property loan data from financial institutions from 2021-22 to 2025-26. This data is being matched to what taxpayers have claimed on their tax returns. Those with anomalies can expect contact from the ATO to explain the discrepancy.
If you have an investment property loan and redraw on the loan for a different purpose to the original borrowing, the loan account becomes a mixed purpose account. Interest accruing on mixed purpose accounts need to be apportioned between each of the different purposes the money was used for.
On the other hand, if the redrawn funds are used to produce investment income, then the interest on this portion of the loan should be deductible.
For example, if you have redrawn on the loan to pay for a private holiday, or pay down personal debt, then the interest relating to this portion of the loan balance is not deductible. Not only will the interest expenses need to be apportioned into deductible and non-deductible parts, but repayments will normally need to be apportioned too.
Withdrawals from an offset account are treated as savings rather than a new borrowing. If you have a loan account and an interest offset account is attached to this account that reduces the interest payable on the loan, withdrawing funds from the offset account will typically increase the amount of interest accruing on the loan, but won’t change the deductible percentage of the interest expenses. That is, when you withdraw funds from the offset account this is really a withdrawal of savings and won’t impact on the extent to which interest accruing on the loan account is deductible.
If you have a home loan that was used to acquire your private home and you have funds sitting in an offset account, withdrawing those funds to pay the deposit on a rental property won’t enable you to claim any of the interest accruing on the home loan. However, if you redraw funds from the home loan to acquire a rental property then interest accruing on this portion of the loan should be deductible. The tax treatment always depends on how the arrangement is structured.
Think you might have a problem? Contact us and we can investigate the issue before the ATO contact you.
Chobani plain yoghurt is GST-free but Chobani’s ‘flip’ range is taxable? A recent case before the AAT demonstrates how fine the dividing line is between GST-free and taxable foods.
Back in 2000 when the Goods & Services Tax (GST) was first introduced, basic food was excluded to secure the support of the Democrats for the new tax regime. Twenty three years later, the result of this exclusion is an unwieldy dividing line between GST-free and taxable foods that is consistently tested and altered. It is this dividing line that US yoghurt giant Chobani Pty Ltd recently tested in a case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).
At the centre of the case was Chobani’s Flip Strawberry Shortcake flavoured yoghurt and whether the product, composed of a tub of strawberry flavoured yoghurt with a separate tub of baked cookie and white chocolate pieces, is subject to GST. If the two components were sold in isolation, the baked cookie pieces would be taxable and the yoghurt GST-free.
Chobani had originally treated the flip yoghurt range as GST-free, relying on a 2001 GST ruling that allowed “a supply that appears to have more than one part but is essentially a supply of one thing” to be a composite supply. A product that is a composite supply could be treated as GST-free if the other components did not exceed the lesser of $3 or 20% of the overall product. In Chobani’s case, this meant that they could treat the flip yoghurt as GST-free.
Then in 2021, the ATO advised Chobani that its position had changed and it intended to treat the flip yoghurt as a combination food and therefore taxable.
Under the GST system, ‘combination foods’ where at least one of the food components is taxable, are subject to GST. Lunch packs of tuna and crackers, for example, are a combination food and therefore GST applies to the whole product because it is intended that the tuna and crackers are eaten together. But, where the food is a ‘mixed supply’, where each item is separate from the other and not intended to be consumed together, the GST will apply (or not) to each individual product. An example would be a hamper.
In the Chobani case, the AAT found in favour of the Commissioner’s interpretation that the flip product was a combination food and therefore subject to GST on the whole product.
The outcome of the Chobani test case has a number of implications. The first is that the ATO has issued a new draft GST ruling on combination foods (GST 2023/D1) replacing the previous guidance. The guidance states that three principles apply when determining whether there is a supply of a combination food:
The second implication is that at least one classification on the ATO’s GST status of major product lines list will change. Weirdly, dip (with biscuits, wrapped individually and packaged together), was listed as a mixed supply, not a combination food.
In a previous case, Birds Eye (Simplot Australia) was also unsuccessful in its appeal to the Federal Court that their frozen vegetable products that combined omelette, rice or grains were GST-free. The Court determined that the foods were either prepared meals or a combination of foods and therefore taxable.
For food manufacturers, importers and distributors, it is important to keep up to date with the changing GST landscape and ensure that you are utilising the correct classifications - it’s a moving feast!
Workers are owed over $3.6 billion in superannuation guarantee according to the latest Australian Taxation Office estimates – a figure the Government and the regulators are looking to dramatically change.
Superficially, the statistics on employer superannuation guarantee (SG) compliance look pretty good with over 94%, or over $71 billion, collected without intervention from the regulators in 2020-21.
The net gap in SG has also declined from a peak of 5.7% in 2015-16 to 5.1% in 2020-21. The COVID-19 stimulus measures helped drive up the voluntary contributions with the largest increase in 2019-20, which the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) says they “suspect reflects the link between payment of super contributions and pay as you go (PAYG) withholding by employers. PAYG withholding is linked to the ability to claim stimulus payments such as Cash Flow Boost.”
Despite these gains, a little adds up to a lot and 5.1% equates to a $3.6 billion net gap in payments that should be in the superannuation funds of workers. Lurking within the amount owed is $1.8 billion of payments from hidden wages. That is, off-the-books cash payments, undisclosed wages, and non-payment of super where employees are misclassified as contractors.
In addition, the ATO notes that as at 28 February 2022, $1.1 billion of SG charge debt was subject to insolvency, which is unlikely to ever be recovered. Quarterly reporting enables debt to escalate before the ATO has a chance to identify and act on an emerging problem.
Employers should not assume that the Government will tackle SG underpayments the same way they have in the past with compliance programs. Instead, technology and legislative change will do the work for them.
Single touch payroll (STP), the reporting mechanism employers must use to report payments to workers, provides a comprehensive, granular level of near-real time data to the regulators on income paid to employees. The ATO is now matching STP data to the information reported to them by superannuation funds to identify late payments, and under or incorrect reporting.
Late payment of quarterly superannuation guarantee is emerging as an area of concern with some employers missing payment deadlines, either because of cashflow difficulties (i.e., SG payments not put aside during the quarter), or technical issues where the timing of contributions is incorrect. Super guarantee needs to be received by the employee’s fund before the due date. Unless you are using the ATO’s superannuation clearing house, payments are unlikely to be received by the employee’s fund if the quarterly payment is made on the due date. The super guarantee laws do not have a tolerance for a ‘little bit’ late. Contributions are either on time, or they are not.
If an employer fails to meet the quarterly SG contribution deadline, they need to pay the SG charge (SGC) and lodge a Superannuation Guarantee Statement within a month of the late payment. The SGC applies even if you pay the outstanding SG soon after the deadline. The SGC is particularly painful for employers because it is comprised of:
Unlike normal SG contributions, SGC amounts are not deductible, even if you pay the outstanding amount.
And, the calculation for SGC is different to how you calculate SG. The SGC is calculated using the employee’s salary or wages rather than their ordinary time earnings (OTE). An employee’s salary and wages may be higher than their OTE, particularly if you have workers who are paid overtime.
It's important that employers that have made late SG payments lodge a superannuation guarantee statement quickly as interest accrues until the statement is lodged. The ATO can also apply penalties for late lodgment of a statement, or failing to provide a statement during an audit, of up to 200% of the SG charge. And, where an SG charge amount remains outstanding, a company director may become personally liable for a penalty equal to the unpaid amount.
Many business owners assume that if they hire independent contractors, they will not be responsible for PAYG withholding, superannuation guarantee, payroll tax and workers compensation obligations. However, each set of rules operates slightly differently and, in some cases, genuine contractors can be treated as if they were employees. There are significant penalties faced by employers that get it wrong.
A genuine independent contractor who is providing personal services will typically be:
The Government intends to introduce laws that will require employers to pay SG at the same, or similar time, as they pay employee salary and wages. The logic is that by increasing the frequency of SG contributions, employees will be around 1.5% better off by retirement, and there will be less opportunity for an SG liability to build up where the employer misses a deadline.
Originally announced in the 2023-24 Federal Budget, Treasury has released a consultation paper to start the process of making payday super a reality. Subject to the passage of the legislation, the reforms are scheduled to take effect from 1 July 2026.
The consultation paper canvasses two options for the timing of SG payments: on the day salary and wages are paid; or a ‘due date’ model that requires contributions to be received by the employee’s superannuation fund within a certain number of days following ‘payday’. A ‘payday’ captures every payment to an employee with an OTE component.
The SGC would also be updated with interest accruing on late payments from ‘payday’.
Currently, 62.6% of employers make SG payments quarterly, 32.7% monthly, and 3.8% fortnightly or weekly.
We’ll bring you more on ‘payday’ super as details are released. For now, there is nothing you need to do.
The proposed objective of superannuation released in recently released draft legislation is: ‘to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way.’
The significance of legislating the objective of super is that any future legislated changes to the superannuation system must be in line with this objective. It’s a fairly broad definition. For example, “equitable” seeks to address the distributional impact of superannuation policy. That is, latitude for the Government to target tax concessions to address differences in demographic factors and structural inequities including intergenerational inequity and outcomes for different groups including women, First Nations Australians, vulnerable members and low-income earners.
“Sustainable” encapsulates the changing needs of an ageing population including reducing the reliance on the Age Pension. The draft also alludes to the viability of the cost of tax concessions used to incentivise Australians to save for retirement.
“Deliver income” appears to reinforce the concept that superannuation savings “should be drawn down to provide individuals with a source of income during their retirement.”
More than 15 million Australians now have a superannuation account. Australia’s superannuation pool has grown from around $148 billion in 1992 to $3.5 trillion in 2023, and will continue to grow. Total superannuation balances as a proportion of GDP are projected to almost double from 116% in 2022–23 to around 218% of GDP by 2062-63.
The consultation also recognises the value of the superannuation system as a source of capital, “which can support investment in capacity-building areas of the economy where there is alignment between the best financial interests of members and national economic priorities.”
What will the Australian community look like in 40 years? We look at the key takeaways from the Intergenerational Report.
The 2023 Intergenerational Report (IGR) is a crystal ball insight into what we can expect Australian society to look like in 40 years and the needs of the community as we grow and evolve. It doesn’t map out our path to flying cars and Jetsons style robotic domestic help (unfortunately) but it does forecast structural trends that will give many of us a level of anxiety about what we need to be doing now to successfully navigate the future.
The report links the continued growth and prosperity of Australia to five significant areas of influence:
Thanks for the reminder. The number of people aged 65 and over will more than double and the number aged 85 and over will more than triple. We’re expected to live longer with the life expectancy of men increasing from 81.3 to 87 years and from 85.2 to 89.5 for women by 2062-63. And that’s a problem for the younger generation.
Australia’s low birth rate, limited migration and increased longevity all have an impact. The old age percentage - the number of people aged 65 and over for every 100 people of traditional working age (15 to 64) in the population - will increase from 26.6% to 38.2%.
From a tax perspective, Australia’s reliance on personal tax means workers will bear an increasing proportion of the tax burden under current fiscal policy. In a recent interview, former Treasury boss Ken Henry labelled it an “intergenerational tragedy” with personal tax growing from 11.7% of GDP to 13.5% based on current policy. The report says that “only 12% of Australians aged 70 and over pay income tax and this age group now makes up 12.2% of the total population. This age group is expected to increase to 18.1% of the total population in 2062-63.” Wholesale tax reform will be required to prevent the growing tax burden on individuals dragging on the economy. With economic growth expected to slow to 2.2% from 3.1% over the next 40 years, the solution will not magically arise from corporate Australia. If it was not for our high rate of inflation you would think an increase to the GST was imminent.
Demographic ageing alone is estimated to account for around 40% of the increase in Government spending over the next 40 years.
The outcome of an ageing population, as you would expect, is increased demand for care and support services that will push the Federal Budget back to a point where deficits are the norm if the current policies remain in place.
From a consumer perspective, it also means that the trend towards user-pays will only increase. As individuals, we need to ensure that we have the means to fund our old age because Government resources will be limited by increasing demand and this demand is funded by a deteriorating percentage of workers contributing to tax revenue.
It's also likely that we will need to look at how we generate income. For some that might mean working longer, for others it is value adding - creating, buying and selling assets in some form, whether that is business, innovation, or through more traditional assets such as property or financial products.
Australia currently has the fourth largest pool of retirement assets in the world, with total superannuation balances projected to grow from 116% of GDP in 2022-23 to around 218% by 2062-63. Our superannuation system will be what underwrites retirement for most Australians. At present, around 70% of people over aged pension age receive some form of Government income support. Over time, and as our superannuation system matures, this percentage is expected to decline sharply as a percentage of GDP with Government support supplementing rather than providing for retirement (the first generation of workers with superannuation guarantee throughout their working life hit retirement age around 2058).
However, the IGR points out that, “the cost of superannuation concessions will increase, driven by earnings on the larger superannuation balances held by Australians.” The proposed tax on future earnings on super balances above $3m may not be the last.
You can expect the management of superannuation to be a priority for Government to ensure that retirement savings are maximised to reduce the reliance on Government support, and to ensure that this enormous pool is leveraged for the gain of not only members, but the nation.
Like most advanced economies, global competition has shifted Australia’s industrial base from the production of goods to services. Ninety percent of jobs are now in services.
With an ageing population, demand for health and care services is expected to soar. People aged 65 or older currently account for around 40% of total Australian health expenditure, despite being about 16% of the population. The IGR estimates that the workforce required to support this sector will need to be twice the size of what it is now to meet demand by 2049-50.
The Government’s biggest spending pressures will be health, aged care, the NDIS, defence and interest payments on government debt. Of these, the NDIS is the fastest growing at 7% per year.
The speed of technological change is difficult to predict, and the IGR doesn’t attempt to make predictions. But what we do know is that technology has had a transformational impact on labour productivity (the value of output of goods and services produced per hour of work). Over the last 30 years, labour productivity has accounted for around 70% of the growth in Australia’s real gross national income. But, tempering this is a slowing of labour productivity growth since the mid-2000s.
We know technological disruption is coming and the debate about the role of artificial intelligence is only just beginning. We also know that unless technology is accessible, our future will be one polarised by those who have and have not benefited from technological change.
There are two key aspects to climate change; the cost of rising temperatures, and the opportunity created by the shift to renewable energy.
Temperatures are anticipated to increase by 1.5 degrees before 2100, potentially before 2040.
From 1960 to 2018, climate disasters reduced annual labour productivity in the year they occurred by about 0.5% in advanced economies. However, for severe climate disasters labour productivity is estimated to be around 7% lower after three years. With rising temperatures, floods, bushfires and other extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and severity. The impact of climate change spelt out in the report is sobering with disruptions and changing patterns impacting agriculture, tourism, recreation and industries that rely on labour intensive outdoor work.
On the positive side, Australia could benefit from new “green” industries, such as hydrogen and other clean energy exports, critical minerals and green metals. It is also likely to drive new, innovative ideas as businesses invest in and develop low emissions technologies, providing a source of future productivity growth in a more sustainable economy. Australia’s potential to generate renewable energy more cheaply than many countries could also reduce costs for both new and traditional sectors, relative to the costs faced by other countries.
Australia relies on open international markets. Trade disputes and military conflicts pose an external threat to Australia’s economy and well being. While the IGR cannot predict the nature of geopolitical events, it notes the importance of investing in national security, presumably this includes cybersecurity, ensuring access to international markets, and deepening regional partnerships to reduce supply chain vulnerabilities.
What a difference timing makes. A recent case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) is a reminder about the tax impact of the timing of employment income.
In this case, the taxpayer was a non-resident working in Kuwait. As part of his work, he was entitled to a ‘milestone bonus’ but, the employer was not in a position to pay the bonus at the time.
When the job ended, the taxpayer moved to Australia and became a resident. Once in Australia, the former employer honoured the performance bonus and paid it as a series of instalments.
The dispute between the ATO and the taxpayer started when the Commissioner issued amended assessments taxing the bonus payments received.
The dispute focused on when the bonus was derived. Had the bonus been derived while the taxpayer was still a non-resident then it would not have been taxed in Australia. This is because non-residents are normally only taxed in Australia on Australian sourced income. Employment income is typically sourced in the place where the work is performed (although there can be exceptions to this).
Australian tax case law says that employment income is normally derived on receipt. In the taxpayer’s case, this was when he received the payments from his former employer, not when he became entitled to the bonus. Because the taxpayer received the bonus when he was a tax resident of Australia, the bonus was subject to tax.
The difference for the taxpayer was quite dramatic. Had he been paid the bonus when it was due, he would have paid no tax as Kuwait does not impose income tax.
Please call us if you are concerned about tax residency or managing overseas income.
$1.7 billion paid out in fraudulent refunds, another $2.7bn in fraudulent claims stopped, around 56,000 alleged perpetrators and over 100 arrests to date. How did the TikTok tax scandal get out of control?
It was promoted as a victimless hack that delivered tens of thousands of dollars into your bank account. Like any hack, taking part was as simple as following the instructions. The streamlined process designed to make it easy for a small business to start-up under Australia’s self-assessment system, also made it easy for the ‘TikTok fraud’ to go viral.
At some point in 2021, videos started to spread that spelt out how to get the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to deliver money into your account. Not quite a loan but a hack that sometimes saw tens of thousands delivered into accounts, no questions asked. As the message gained traction, and with more and more people validating the hack, facilitators emerged. All you had to do was hand over your personal details to the facilitators and they would take care of the rest.
The fraud saw offenders inventing fake businesses, applying for an Australian Business Number (ABN), many in their own names, then submitting fictitious Business Activity Statements (BAS) to claim GST refunds.
By late 2021, the Banks noticed the uptick in suspicious activity, mostly large refunds that were out of character for those accounts - in some cases, Centrelink recipients receiving large credits from the ATO. The banks froze a number of accounts and reported the suspicious matters as they are required to do under the Anti-Money Laundering & Counter Terrorism legislation, including to the ATO.
In April 2022, the ATO formed Operation Protego to disrupt the rapid increase in GST refund fraud by individuals that were not genuinely in business. By that stage however, the strategy had gone viral.
By May 2022, the average GST refund paid was $20,000, claimed by around 40,000 people. The ATO conceded around $850 million had been paid out in potentially fraudulent claims. By June 2022, that figure had blown out to $1.2bn but the ATO had stemmed the flow, rejecting $1.7bn in fraudulent claims. Search warrants and arrests of scheme promoters followed.
It's hard to understand how so many people - an estimated 56,000 Australians - made the leap in logic that some sort of hack had been discovered that enabled you to claim thousands of dollars in tax refunds as a ‘loan’ from the ATO. At the best of times the ATO is not known for its sporadic acts of generosity and laissez faire attitude to tax revenue. We know the opposite is true.
And, why so many accepted a view promoted on TikTok - the act of participating in the fraud required falsifying records at several stages and yet, failed to ring alarm bells. Unfortunately, naivety is not a compelling defence against fraud.
“The ATO has zero tolerance to any fraudulent or corrupt behaviour that may in any way impact the ATO.”
The TikTok tax fraud is extensive and has several layers of impact across the 56,000 taxpayers caught up in it.
The closest circle are the scheme promoters and facilitators. To date, more than 100 people have been arrested including members of outlaw motorcycle gangs, organised criminal organisations, and youth crime gangs – and more than 10 people have been convicted for their involvement.
The maximum penalty for promoting a tax fraud scheme is 10 years in prison.
The second circle are those actively engaged in the scheme - who declared that they were carrying on a business, established an ABN, and submitted GST refund claims for expenses they did not incur. For those who received fraudulent GST refunds, the money will need to be paid back, penalties are likely to apply, and there is a risk of criminal proceedings. If the ATO have contacted you, engagement will be the key to reducing penalties and preventing an escalation to criminal proceedings. If you were engaged in the GST refund fraud but the ATO has not contacted you yet, it will be important to work with us as soon as possible to declare and manage the issue.
The third circle is comprised of the unwitting identity theft victims whose details have been used to generate fraudulent GST refunds. The ATO have had reports of people offering to buy and sell myGov details in order to access refunds. The conversation within the accounting community is that the ATO are inundated at present trying to manage the fallout, not just from the TikTok GST refund fraud but identity theft in general. So, keep on top of your myGov account and if you notice any unusual activity, contact us asap.
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