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.