Speaking in front of a parliamentary inquiry into COVID-19, ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said that businesses who are overly pessimistic with their estimate, but made it in “good faith”, won’t be punished.
According to JobKeeper eligibility criteria, businesses are required to self-assess and determine if they meet the 30 per cent year-on-year turnover decline. But, as the ATO has put it, the best businesses can do is make a “reasonable estimate”.
“The legislation asks people to make a ‘reasonable estimate’,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“A reasonable estimate is what is sufficient. If it ultimately turns out that the estimate was overly pessimistic and that a business only went down 29 per cent instead of an estimated 35 per cent, that is OK.”
He underlined that while there are a range of consequences for people who apply despite not being eligible, when people make a “good-faith estimate to comply and a good-faith decision that they’re eligible”, the commissioner will be “very understanding”.
This is particularly true where businesses have passed the benefit of the JobKeeper payment to their employees.
“I hear the concern in the community that there will be some sort of nitpicking or over-engineering of these tests,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“What the legislation and we are asking of businesses is to make a good-faith effort, and, when we consider the good-faith effort, even if it’s a little bit wrong, we will be very sympathetic to and understanding of their position.”
Speaking also about the risk of self-assessment and the approach the ATO will take against businesses that do the wrong thing deliberately, ATO COVID-19 taskforce chair Jeremy Geale said that at the end of the day, the program is about helping Aussies suffering financial difficulty.
“It’s not to draw a hard line in terms of 30 per cent — investigating and finding a person is sitting at 29.95 per cent,” Mr Geale said.
“The focus is on people who would be deliberately rorting the system or operators out there in terms of the system.”
In a MyBusiness webcast earlier this week, Deborah Jenkins, Deputy Commissioner from the ATO, confirmed that the ATO is aware the quantity of information in a short period of time is bound to lead to unintended mistakes.
“We know the vast majority of people are absolutely trying to do the right thing,” Ms Jenkins said.
“They are trying their hardest, there’s been a lot of information that’s come out in a very, very quick period of time. And so we know that most people are absolutely trying to do the right thing.”
She, however, added that while in most cases it “would be a simple misunderstanding”, the ATO tip-off line has received information about deliberate wrongdoing.
“People may wish to, we have a tip-off line, which is 1 800 060 062, or there’s some information on our website as well. And if you do feel that people aren’t doing the right thing, and you would like to report that to us, then please do so,” she said.