The new financial year sees a range of new measures introduced that will impact businesses, including new company whistleblower protections, rules around SME lending and a ban on unsolicited credit card limit rises.
As previously reported, the new financial year sees a range of tax and payroll changes take effect, including Single Touch Payroll (STP) reporting, increases to minimum and award wages, and changes to certain penalty rates and Fair Work Commission fees and compensation thresholds.
Employers with 20 or more employees can now face penalties for not reporting payroll data through STP.
1 July also marks a number of other changes that may be lost on SME owners and operators.
Company whistleblower protections
Changes to the Corporations Act have introduced enhanced protections for whistleblowers who flag misconduct by companies and their officers.
“The Corporations Act now better protects corporate whistleblowers with requirements to maintain their confidentiality and prevent them from suffering or being threatened with detriment,” ASIC said in a statement.
“Whistleblowers can also seek compensation if they suffer loss, damage or injury for making their disclosure. These protections are important to ensure and encourage whistleblowers to come forward to the company or to ASIC to raise their concerns.”
These protections, ASIC said, cover current and former employees, company officers, contractors, as well as their spouses and dependents. The rules apply even in cases where the person reporting potential misconduct wishes to remain anonymous.
“We value the people from inside companies and organisations who come to ASIC with reports of potential misconduct or breaches of the law. Whistleblowers provide ASIC with important information and help us enforce the laws we administer to address and prevent harm to consumers,” ASIC commissioner John Price said.
“ASIC considers a strong and effective arrangement for handling reports from whistleblowers is a key component of corporate governance. We encourage companies to implement a strategy for dealing with whistleblower reports they may receive in line with the legislative requirements.”
Simpler SME loan contracts
At face value, the new Banking Code of Practice taking effect may not seem relevant to businesses outside the finance industry, yet it does have significant importance to SMEs — particularly around bank loans.
As the banking royal commission identified, this code sets the standards for SME lending and other financial services, including dispute resolution procedures.
This time, the self-imposed code has been submitted to, and approved by, ASIC. According to the Australian Banking Association (ABA), the new code forbids banks from offering unsolicited credit card limit increases, selling insurance with either credit cards or personal loans at the point of sale, or charging commissions on lenders mortgage insurance (LMI).
Other protections include:
- “Simpler and fairer” small business loan contracts that use “plain English that avoids legal jargon”
- The introduction of a three-day grace period on loan guarantees to allow guarantors time to reflect on their suitability to do so
- Requiring banks to offer reminders to credit card customers when an introductory offer expires
“Banks understand they need to change their behaviour, and this new rule book represents an important step in earning back the trust of the Australian public,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said.
“The new Code will form part of every customer’s relationship with their bank and will be strongly enforced both by an independent body, the Banking Code Compliance Committee, and the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
“Whether it’s through your credit card, home loan, small business loan or just day-to-day banking, Australian customers will see tangible benefits from this new Code.”
The new Code taking effect coincides with the start of a one-year window for SMEs to report historic complaints of misconduct by a financial institution.
Greater ease to switch financial providers
Another matter impacting the world of finance is so-called “open banking”, which forces banks to be more transparent about customer data.
From 1 July this year, the big four banks are required to grant access to data they hold over a customer’s credit and debit cards, as well as transaction and deposit accounts. Other lenders are able to do so at their discretion.
The open banking initiative is designed to encourage greater market competition by making it easier for customers to change banks, empowered by disclosure of their banking history.
According to Treasury, it is the first in a series of open banking requirements that will be progressively rolled out between now and July 2021.
Tax Integrity Centre
As part of efforts to crack down on undeclared income, tax evasion and phoenix activity, the ATO has launched a new Tax Integrity Centre.
As part of the centre, Australian taxpayers can tip off the ATO about suspected illegal dealings, through either the ATO app or website, or by phoning the black economy hotline on 1800 060 062.
The dedicated centre for receiving and processing these reports comes after the ATO said it was on track to receive more than 70,000 tip-offs in the 2018–19 financial year, almost 20,000 more than the previous year.
Around three-quarters of these tip-offs relate to business, the ATO subsequently told My Business.
All the latest end of financial year news can be found in one place on the dedicated My Business EOFY 2019 page.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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