ATO Compliance: Economic Stimulus Measures

Businesses that have accessed government economic stimulus measures need to take extra care this tax time. The ATO has announced that it will increase its scrutiny, conducting compliance activity on various economic stimulus measures introduced to help businesses recover from the effects of COVID-19. These stimulus measures include loss carry-back, temporary full expensing and accelerated depreciation. While the ATO said it will continue to support businesses, most of whom are doing the right thing, it is looking at behaviour or development of schemes designed to deliberately exploit various stimulus measures. All taxpayers that have used the schemes are encouraged to review their claims to ensure they are eligible, and that the amounts claimed are correct.

The loss carry-back measure allows eligible corporate entities to claim a refundable tax offset in their 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 company tax returns. In essence, companies get to “carry back” losses to earlier years in which there were income tax liabilities, which may result in a cash refund or a reduced tax liability.

The temporary full expensing measure allows eligible businesses to immediately deduct the business portion of the cost of eligible new depreciating assets or improvements held and ready for use between 6 October 2020 and 30 June 2022. Eligible businesses also have access to the accelerated depreciation measure for the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 income years, in which the cost of new depreciating assets can be deducted at an accelerated rate.

Specifically, in relation to loss carry-back, the ATO will looking for businesses that are deliberately inflating their deductions or omitting some of their income to generate the appearance of losses. It will also look for signs of businesses entering into contrived schemes to obtain a benefit of the loss carry-back tax offset, such as shifting or creating losses through non-arm’s length dealings or shifting franking credits to a corporate entity (either directly or indirectly).

Behaviours the ATO looks out for:

In relation to temporary full expensing and/or accelerated depreciation, the ATO notes the following behaviours which will attract its attention:

  • entering into contrived schemes to obtain a benefit of a temporary full expensing deduction, including schemes involving:
  • manipulation of aggregated turnover;
  • non-commercial transactions involving the transfer of an asset between related entities;
  • artificially inflating the cost of assets (including inappropriate valuations) through non-arm’s length dealings;
  • claiming deductions for assets acquired solely for a non-business purpose or failing to take into account any portion of non-business use;
  • deliberately misclassifying or reclassifying excluded assets (eg reclassifying capital works and buildings as eligible assets under temporary full expensing or Div 43 capital works and buildings as eligible assets under accelerated depreciation);
  • deliberately inflating the amount of accelerated depreciation deduction by applying the incorrect adjustable value or effective life;
  • failing to take into account the car limit when calculating the deduction; and
  • lacking evidence to substantiate the claim (including the cost of assets) such as invoices, contracts, supplier agreements or independent valuations.

The ATO notes that it will review claims for loss-carry back, temporary full expensing and accelerated depreciation as part of its tax time compliance activities as well as actively identifying tax schemes and arrangements seeking to exploit those schemes. Where cases of concerning or fraudulent behaviours are identified, it will actively pursue the claims including imposing financial penalties, prosecution and imprisonment for the most serious of cases.

Important: Clients should not act solely on the basis of the material contained here. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. Also, changes in legislation may occur quickly. We, therefore, recommend that our formal advice be sought before acting in any of the areas. 

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