Law

ALERT: Super guarantee opt-out for high income earners now law

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From 1 January 2020, eligible individuals with multiple employers can apply to opt out of receiving super guarantee ('SG') from some of their employers, to help them avoid unintentionally going over the concessional contributions cap.

If appropriate for them, they should submit the relevant ATO form to apply for an SG employer shortfall exemption certificate, which releases one or more of their employers from their SG obligations for up to four quarters in one financial year.

Editor: We can assist with the lodgment of this form.

Note that this measure may not benefit everyone who is eligible, so before lodging the form, it is important to consider the individual's employment arrangements, such as how their pay and other entitlements may change (if at all), and the effect of any relevant award or workplace agreement applicable to them.

The measure only became law on 2 October 2019, so to give eligible employees time to make an application, the ATO will accept applications for the 2019/20 financial year as follows:

-       third quarter commencing 1 January 2020 — lodge on or before 18 November 2019; and

-       fourth quarter commencing 1 April 2020 — lodge on or before 31 January 2020.

A separate application is required for each financial year.

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ALERT: Using the cents per kilometre method

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The ‘cents per kilometre’ method broadly allows an individual taxpayer to claim up to a maximum of 5,000 business kilometres per car, per year without the need to keep any written evidence (e.g., receipts) of car expenses.

Importantly, taxpayers making a ‘cents per kilometre’ claim are required to demonstrate that they worked out the number of business kilometres they claimed on a reasonable basis

Taxpayers claiming under this method will generally fall into one of two categories, being either those who undertake a regular or irregular pattern of work-related travel.

If a taxpayer has a regular pattern of work-related travel (e.g., a 60 kilometre round trip to the warehouse to pick up supplies twice a week, 40 weeks in the year), then this type of explanation would generally be sufficient to justify the claim.

However, if the taxpayer has an irregular pattern of work-related travel, then they would need to make a note (e.g., in a diary) of each trip. 

Also, remember that, for the 2019 income year, the rate that is applied (up to the 5,000 business kilometre maximum) is 68 cents (up from 66 cents in 2018) per business kilometre travelled.

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UPDATE: Federal Court provides clarification on the PSI rules

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The Federal Court recently handed down two decisions relating to the personal services income ('PSI') rules.

Income is classified as PSI when more than 50% of the income received under a contract is for a taxpayer’s labour, skills or expertise.

The PSI rules are integrity provisions which ensure individuals cannot reduce or defer their income tax by (for example) diverting income for their personal services through companies, partnerships or trusts.  If the rules apply, the individual is taxed on the income directly.

The rules do not apply if at least 75% of the individual’s PSI is for producing a result, where the individual supplies all the required 'tools of trade' and is liable for rectifying defects in the work (this is known as the 'results test').

In the first case, the Federal Court confirmed that the taxpayer did not meet the 'results test'.

The taxpayer argued that the 'results test' is still satisfied even if they do not get paid for achieving a result, provided they can show this is the custom or practice of independent contractors in their industry.

The Federal Court rejected this, agreeing with the ATO’s earlier determination to apply the PSI laws to tax the individual’s contract income as his own income, rather than income split through a partnership with his spouse (which also meant certain deductions were not allowable).

The Federal Court also affirmed the imposition of penalties for recklessness.

However, in the second case, the Federal Court allowed the taxpayer’s appeal from an earlier AAT decision, that he has failed the 'unrelated clients test' despite advertising his services on LinkedIn.

The Federal Court found the ATO and AAT had applied an exception for services provided through intermediaries (e.g., recruitment agencies) too broadly, and instead the Court preferred a narrow interpretation of the exception.

This matter has now been referred back to the AAT to be reconsidered, and the ATO has said it will consider this decision and whether an appeal is appropriate.

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ALERT: Motor vehicle registries data matching program protocol

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The ATO will match the data provided by the State and Territory motor vehicle registering authorities against the ATO’s taxpayer records with the objective of identifying those who may not be meeting their registration, reporting, lodgment and payment obligations.

Details will be requested where records indicate a vehicle has been transferred or newly registered during the 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years where the purchase price or market value is equal to or exceeds $10,000 (approximately 2 million transactional records a year).

This data will allow compliance checks on luxury car tax, FBT and fuel schemes, as well as identifying higher risk taxpayers with outstanding taxation lodgments, and those with undeclared income or concealing the real accumulation of wealth.

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ALERT: "Outrageous" deductions rejected

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The ATO has published some of the most unusual claims that they disallowed last financial year.

Nearly 700,000 taxpayers claimed almost $2 billion of ‘other’ expenses, but the ATO's systematic review of claims had found, and disallowed, some very unusual expenses, including:

-   claims for Lego sets bought as gifts for children, and sporting equipment or membership fees for their child athletes;

-   claims for dental expenses ("believing a nice smile was essential to finding a job");

-   some taxpayers tried to claim the purchase of a brand new car (in excess of $20,000 each!), with one "particularly charitable" taxpayer trying to claim for a car purchased as a gift for their mother;

-   one taxpayer made a claim for "the cost of raising twins", while another claimed for the "cost of raising three children" (and another taxpayer was obviously shocked at the cost of having children, simply stating "New born baby expensive" when making their claim);

-   other taxpayers claimed child support payments, private school fees, school uniforms, before school care and other school expenses, as well as health insurance costs and medical expenses; and

-   one taxpayer decided to claim the cost of their wedding reception.

The ‘other’ deductions section of the tax return is for expenses incurred in earning income that don’t appear elsewhere on the return — such as income protection and sickness insurance premiums.

The ATO is reminding taxpayers that, in order to claim an ‘other’ deduction, the expenses must be directly related to earning income and they need to have a receipt or record of the expense.

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ALERT: ATO targeting false laundry claims

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The ATO will target false clothing and laundry work-related expense claims this Tax Time.

In 2018, around six million people claimed work-related clothing and laundry expenses totalling nearly $1.5 billion.

Assistant Commissioner Karen Foat said although many Australians can claim clothing and laundry expenses, it’s unlikely that half of all taxpayers are required to wear uniforms, protective clothing or occupation-specific clothing to earn their income.

“Last year a quarter of all clothing and laundry claims were exactly at the record-keeping limit", Ms Foat said.

"But don’t think that we won’t scrutinise a claim because we don’t require receipts”.

She also said the ATO does not ignore incorrect claims "just because they are small, because small amounts add up".

The ATO is also concerned about the number of people claiming deductions for conventional clothing, such as retail workers claiming normal clothes "because their boss told them to wear a certain colour, or items from the latest fashion clothing line", or others claiming normal clothes because they only wear them to work.

The ATO’s sophisticated data analytics is constantly improving and can identify unusual claims by comparing taxpayer claims to others in similar occupations.

Taxpayers who can’t substantiate their claims should expect to have them refused, and may be penalised for failing to take reasonable care when submitting their tax return.

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‘Cash in hand’ payments to workers no longer tax deductible

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The ATO has reminded employers that any ‘cash in hand’ payments made to workers from 1 July 2019 will not be tax deductible.

‘Cash in hand’ refers to cash payments to employees that do not comply with pay as you go ('PAYG') withholding obligations.

Payments made to contractors where the contractor does not provide an ABN and the business does not withhold any tax will also not be tax deductible from 1 July.

In addition to the loss of a tax deduction, employers caught not complying with their PAYG withholding obligations may be penalised for failing to withhold and report amounts under the PAYG withholding system.

However, employers who mistakenly classify their employee as a contractor will not lose their deduction where their worker provides them with an ABN.

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ALERT: Continued focus on the cash economy

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ATO Assistant Commissioner Peter Holt has announced that, in the 2019/20 financial year, the ATO will be visiting a further 10,000 small businesses across the country, including up to 500 small businesses in Tasmania.

He further said that businesses that advertise as 'cash only' and businesses that are operating outside of the ATO's performance benchmarks for their industry will be especially targeted for a visit from the ATO.

“Businesses that pay cash in hand, or fail to lodge income tax or business activity statements, get an unfair advantage and make it harder for other businesses who are doing the right thing.  By detecting and addressing this behaviour, we’re helping ensure a level playing field for honest small businesses.”

Businesses in the following industries are most likely to get a visit from the ATO:

-  Restaurants and cafes;

-  Vehicle repairers;

-  Personal care businesses including hairdressers and nail salons;

-  Pharmacies;

- Construction businesses;

-  Clothing stores;

-  Grocery stores / small supermarkets; and

-  Butchers.

Whilst on the road, ATO officers will also be available to help those businesses that are trying to do the right thing.

Mr Holt said the ATO will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action against those deliberately avoiding their tax and super obligations and the visits may uncover this deliberate non-compliance.

“If businesses know they have made mistakes we encourage them to let us know and work with us or their tax professional.”

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RULE CHANGE: Non-compliant payments to workers

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The rules for claiming deductions for payments to workers are changing.

From 1 July 2019, businesses can only claim deductions for certain payments made to workers where they've met the Pay As You Go (‘PAYG’) withholding obligation for that payment.

Specifically, a business can only claim a deduction for the following payments if it complies with the relevant PAYG withholding rules:

-    Salary, wages, commissions, bonuses or allowances to an employee.

-    Directors’ fees.

-    Payments to a religious practitioner.

-    Payments made under a labour hire arrangement.

-    Payments made for a supply of services (except from supplies of goods and real property) where the contractor has not provided their ABN.

Where the PAYG withholding rules require an amount to be withheld, the business must:

-    withhold the amount from the payment before they pay their worker; and

-    report that amount to the ATO.

Importantly, a deduction will not be lost if an incorrect amount is withheld (or reported) by mistake.

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Alert: Christmas Gifts and Fringe Benefits Tax

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Editor:  With the holiday season approaching, many employers and businesses want to reward their staff and loyal clients/customers/suppliers.

Again, it is important to understand how gifts to staff and clients, etc., are handled 'tax-wise'.

 Gifts that are not considered to be entertainment

These generally include, for example, a Christmas hamper, a bottle of whisky or wine, gift vouchers, a bottle of perfume, flowers, a pen set, etc.  

Briefly, the general FBT and income tax consequences for these gifts are as follows:

-   gifts to employees and their family members – are liable to FBT (except where the 'less than $300' minor benefit exemption applies) and tax deductible; and

-   gifts to clients, suppliers, etc. – no FBT, and tax deductible.

 Gifts that are considered to be entertainment

These generally include, for example, tickets to attend the theatre, a live play, sporting event, movie or the like, a holiday airline ticket, or an admission ticket to an amusement centre.

Briefly, the general FBT and income tax consequences for these gifts are as follows:

-   gifts to employees and their family members – are liable to FBT (except where the 'less than $300' minor benefit exemption applies) and tax deductible (unless they are exempt from FBT); and

-   gifts to clients, suppliers, etc. – no FBT and not tax deductible.

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ALERT: Ban on electronic sales suppression tools

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From 4 October 2018, the Government has banned activities involving electronic sales suppression tools (‘ESSTs’) that relate to people or businesses that have Australian tax obligations. 

The production, supply, possession or use of an ESST (or knowingly assisting others to do so) may attract criminal and administrative penalties.

ESSTs can come in different forms and are constantly evolving, some examples include:

-   An external device connected to a point of sale (‘POS’) system.

-   Additional software installed into otherwise-compliant software.

-   A feature or modification that is a part of a POS system or software.

An ESST may allow income to be misrepresented and under-reported by:

-   deleting transactions from electronic record-keeping systems;

-   changing transactions to reduce the amount of a sale;

-   misrepresenting sales records (e.g., by allowing GST taxable sales to be re-categorised as GST non-taxable sales); or

-   falsifying POS records.

Transitional arrangements are in place for six months starting from 4 October 2018 to 3 April 2019 for possessing an ESST.

Taxpayers may avoid committing an offence for possessing an ESST if they:

-   acquired it before 7:30pm 9 May 2017; and

-   advise the ATO that they possess the tool.

Importantly, the transitional provisions do not apply to the manufacture, development, publication, supply or use of an ESST.

Depending on the offence and severity of the crime, taxpayers can face financial penalties of up to 5,000 penalty units, which currently equates to over $1 million.

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NEWS: Legislation to combat illegal phoenix activity

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The Government has announced a package of reforms to tackle illegal phoenix behaviour. 

By way of background, phoenixing occurs when the controllers of a company strip the company's assets and transfer them to another company, to avoid paying the original company's debts. 

The proposed measures will deter and disrupt the core behaviours of phoenix operators by:

-   creating new criminal and civil offences, attaching the highest penalties available under the law, to target those who engage in and facilitate illegal phoenix transactions;

-   preventing directors from backdating their resignations to avoid personal liability;

-   preventing sole directors from resigning and leaving a company as an empty corporate shell with no directors;

-   restricting the voting rights of related creditors of the phoenix company at meetings regarding the appointment or removal and replacement of a liquidator;

-   making directors personally liable for GST liabilities, as part of extended director penalty provisions; and

-   extending the ATO's existing power to retain refunds where there are outstanding tax lodgments.

A new Phoenix Hotline is also being established, which will make it easier to report suspected phoenix behaviour. 

Editor: According to the Government, the proposed measures are tightly targeted at those who misuse the corporate form, while minimising any unintended impacts on legitimate business restructuring.  Whether they will be able to achieve this goal or not is yet to be seen…

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ALERT: Increased scrutiny of home office claims

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Last year, 6.7 million taxpayers claimed a record $7.9 billion in deductions for ‘other work-related expenses’, which includes home office expenses.

Reportedly, due to a high number of mistakes, errors and questionable claims for home office expenses, the ATO has recently advised that it will be increasing attention, scrutiny and education on these claims this tax time.

In particular, the ATO has flagged their concerns relating to taxpayers who are claiming:

-   expenses they never paid for;

-   expenses that their employer has reimbursed them for;

-   private expenses; and

-   expenses with no supporting records.

Whilst additional costs incurred as a direct result of working from home can be claimed, care must be taken not to claim private expenses as well.

The ATO has indicated that one of the biggest issues they face is people claiming the entire amount of expenses (e.g., their internet or mobile phone), rather than just the extra portion relating to work.

Provided the taxpayer is able to demonstrate that they have incurred additional costs of running expenses (e.g., electricity for heating, cooling and lighting), then these are generally deductible.

In contrast, employees are generally not able to claim any portion of occupancy-related expenses (e.g., rent, mortgage repayments, property insurance, land taxes and rates).

Taxpayers are warned that the ATO may contact their employers to verify expenses claimed for working from home.

In addition, the ATO expects to disallow a lot of claims where the taxpayer has not kept adequate records to prove that they have legitimately incurred the relevant expense and that the expense was related to their work.

As with the claiming of deductions in general, supporting records must be kept when claiming work-from-home expenses, which may include receipts, diary entries and itemised phone bills. 

Importantly, only the additional work-related portion of the relevant expense is deductible.

Advancement in technology has allowed the ATO to deploy sophisticated systems and analytics to spot claims that do not ‘add up’ and claims that are out of the ordinary compared to others in similar occupations, earning similar income.

Finally, the ATO has reminded taxpayers of the ‘three golden rules’ to follow when claiming work-from-home deductions, being:

-   the taxpayer must have spent the money themselves and have not been reimbursed;

-   it must be directly related to earning the taxpayer’s income, not a personal expense; and

-   the taxpayer must have a record to prove the expense.

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NEWS: Black economy recommendations will impact day-to-day business

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Editor: Recently issued draft legislation has focused on introducing new measures to manage the growing cash economy (i.e., the ‘black economy’) in light of the Black Economy Taskforce recommendations and recent Federal Budget announcements. 

Two of these key recommendations are outlined below.

Removing tax deductions for PAYG failure

The Government is currently considering removing tax deductions where businesses fail to comply with their PAYG withholding obligations for payments to employees and contractors from 1 July 2019.

Specifically, deductions are proposed to be denied for these types of payments where the payer has failed to either:

-   comply with their obligations in relation to withholding from these payments; or

-   notify the ATO of the withholding amount (i.e., via their BAS).

Interestingly, deductions will only be denied if no withholding took place or no notification has been made. 

That is, incorrect amounts withheld or reported to the ATO will not impact a taxpayer’s entitlement to deductions.

Further expansion of the taxable payments reporting system (‘TPRS’)

The TPRS was introduced for the first time in the 2013 income year with respect to businesses in the building and construction industry, requiring the reporting of total payments made to contractors for building and construction services each year.

The taxable payments annual report is due by 28 August each year.

Legislation is currently being considered by Parliament to extend the TPRS to the cleaning and courier industries from the 2019 income year.

Furthermore, draft legislation has now been released to further expand the TPRS to the following industries from the 2020 income year:

-   security providers and investigation services;

-   road freight transport; and

-   computer system design and related services.

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NEWS: ATO scrutinising car claims this tax time

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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.”

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NEWS: Superannuation guarantee amnesty introduced

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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.

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NEWS: 2018 Budget Update

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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.

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NEWS: Employee denied deductions for work-related expenses

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An employee photographer has been denied deductions for travel expenses (when travelling with his family), and other purported work related expenses.

The AAT held that the travel expenses were primarily incurred for the purposes of a family trip or holiday and were therefore non-deductible, as they were private and domestic in nature.

Also, in relation to the taxpayer's reliance on bank statements in the absence of invoices and receipts, the AAT observed that “evidence of the mere transfer of funds, be it by way of bank transfer or by any other means, is not sufficiently informative of the actual character of an expense", so the other disputed expenses could not be claimed as allowable deductions.

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ALERT: Get ready for Single Touch Payroll

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Single Touch Payroll (or 'STP') is mandatory for 'substantial employers' (being those with 20 or more employees) from 1 July 2018.

All employers are required to count the number of employees on their payroll on 1 April 2018 to find out if they are a substantial employer (note that this can be done after 1 April, but they need to count the employees who were on their payroll on 1 April). 

They must count each employee (not the full time equivalent), including full-time, part-time and casual employees, as well as those employees based overseas or absent or on leave (paid or unpaid).

Employers that are part of a company group must include the total number of employees employed by all member companies of the wholly-owned group.

However, employers don't have to include the following in the headcount:

-    any employees who ceased work before 1 April;

-    casual employees who did not work in March;

-    independent contractors;

-    staff provided by a third-party labour hire organisation;

-    company directors or office holders; or

-    religious practitioners.

Note that, although directors, office holders and religious practitioners are not included in the headcount, if the employer starts reporting through STP, the payment information of these individuals will need to be reported (because the payments are subject to withholding and are currently reported in the Individual non-business payment summary).

Employers don't need to send the ATO the headcount information, but they may want to keep a copy for their own records.

Once an employer becomes a substantial employer, they will need to continue reporting through STP even if their employee numbers drop to 19 or less (unless they apply for and are granted an exemption).

Editor: Please contact our office if you need any assistance regarding the new STP regime.

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Mawer Consulting is a consulting firm located in Perth, Western Australia that provides a range of successful businesses with strategic business advice, accounting and taxation services.

www.mawcons.com.au

admin@mawcons.com.au

(08) 9364 4204

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ALERT: Continued ATO focus on holiday home rentals

holiday home.jpg

The ATO has recently advised that they are “setting their sights on the large number of mistakes, errors and false claims made by rental property owners who use their own property for personal holidays”

While it confirms that the private use of holiday homes by friends and family is entirely legitimate, the ATO states that such use reduces a taxpayer’s ability to earn income from the property, and therefore impacts on (i.e., reduces) the amount of claimable deductions.

As a result, the ATO has reminded holiday home owners that: 

-    They can only claim deductions for a holiday home with respect to periods it is genuinely available for rent.

-    They cannot place unreasonable conditions on prospective tenants/renters, set rental rates above market value, or fail to advertise a holiday home in a manner that targets people who would be interested in it and still claim that the property was genuinely available for rent. 

-    Where a property is rented to friends or relatives at ‘mates rates’, they can only claim deductions for expenses up to the amount of the income received. 

       -   Property owners whose claims are disproportionate to the income received can expect greater scrutiny from the ATO.

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Click here to sign up to our Newsletter to receive the latest in strategic advice, taxation and business

_____________________________________________________________

Mawer Consulting is a consulting firm located in Perth, Western Australia that provides a range of successful businesses with strategic business advice, accounting and taxation services.

www.mawcons.com.au

admin@mawcons.com.au

(08) 9364 4204

_____________________________________________________________

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation