I’m sure you are aware of the recently announced JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme and many employers may have already registered their interest via the ATO’s website. In the last few days, the Legislation has passed, the Treasurer has authorised the Rules, and the ATO has issued initial Guidance on the operation of the scheme.
Be aware that this is still evolving and further information and guidance from the ATO is expected in due course.
A Brief Recap
The JobKeeper payment is available to eligible employers to enable them to pay their eligible employees at least $1,500 before tax per fortnight effective from 30 March 2020 to 27 September (being 26 weeks or 13 “payment periods”).
The first payment from the ATO to the employer will be made during the first week of May (based on wages backdated to 30 March) and then continue to be paid monthly in arrears. Some self-employed workers are also eligible.
The basic eligibility for an employer (with ‘aggregated’ annual turnover of $1 billion or less) is that it has (or likely will) suffer at least a 30% decline in turnover during any month of March 2020 to September 2020 compared to the same month of the previous year.
It is important to note that contractors are not included in the scheme as they are not employees.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW AND DO
Employers must enrol for the JobKeeper payment scheme with the ATO from 20 April 2020 using an online form on the ATO’s Business Portal (bp.ato.gov.au), which identifies the employer and the number of eligible employees. Tax agents can also enrol on behalf of their clients.
Note that a previous registration of interest on the ATO website is not an enrolment.
Enrolment is required by 30 April 2020 in order to qualify for the first payments due in May. Enrolments after 30 April 2020 will only qualify for payments prospectively. Subsequently, from 4 May 2020, employers must provide to the ATO additional information about each of their eligible employees.
Some sole traders and other self-employed people (including through partnerships, trusts and companies) can also be eligible for the JobKeeper Payment where they are actively engaged in their business, but are not employees.
It is important to note that only one person per entity can be nominated.
This issue has been raised with the ATO as there may be cases where more than one owner/operator actively works in the business. We expect that the ATO will consider, and provide more information about this in due course.
The Turnover Test
The required reduction in turnover only needs to be satisfied once during March 2020 to September 2020 and does not need to be re-tested each month (although actual and projected turnover does need to be reported monthly). A quarter can also be used for the test, instead of a month, but in that case it will be only for the quarters ended 30 June 2020 and 30 September 2020. Whether a month is used or a quarter, the test compares it to the corresponding period in the previous year.
Other than if the employer can meet the required reduction in turnover for March 2020 (based on actual results), the employer is required to project it’s future turnover in order determine if it will meet the turnover test before the end of September 2020 in order to enrol in the JobKeeper scheme.
For the employer to be eligible from the first fortnight commencing 30 March 2020, the business will need to meet the required reduction in turnover by comparing:
- Turnover for March 2020 to March 2019;
- Projected turnover for April 2020 with April 2019; or
- Projected turnover for the quarter 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020 with the quarter 1 April 2019 to 30 June 2019.
Otherwise, the employer needs to wait until the business meets the test in another month or quarter and then enrol in the scheme. In that case the JobKeeper payments will only be prospective from the date of enrolment and not backdated to 30 March 2020.
The Rules also allow the ATO to set an alternate to the Turnover Test where the employer has not been in business for a full year. There is also the opportunity for the Tax Commissioner’s discretion to be applied to unusual or unique circumstances.
Should the employer enrol in the scheme but subsequently finds that the business does not meet the turnover test based on its actual monthly or quarterly results, it will need to repay the JobKeeper payments, with interest, unless the ATO applies discretion. Note that the ATO will require the employer to report actual monthly turnover at the end of each month (discussed below).
Before an employer can enrol in the JobKeeper payment scheme, it must notify each eligible employee that the employer intends to nominate those employees. This is required to be on an ATO Form (www.ato.gov.au/assets/0/104/300/387/d1aab7f2-fbe8-44b8-9ec1-4885ded1088e.pdf) and the employee must complete the form and return it to the employer before 30 April 2020. The employer must retain the completed form as part of its tax records.
Employees as at 1 March 2020 that have been stood down without pay may still be eligible, as are those that have been terminated if they are re-hired.
It is also important to note that Treasury have indicated that the employer cannot select or choose which eligible employees they wish to have participate in the scheme. It has stated “this ‘one in, all in’, rule is a key feature of the scheme”.
JobKeeper is a reimbursement scheme. This is one of the most important aspects of the scheme.
JobKeeper cannot be received by the employer in advance of payment to the employees, and an employer cannot be reimbursed if they have not actually made the payment to the eligible employees in the payment period.
Employers must actually pay the employees the minimum $1,500 (before tax) per fortnight to be eligible to receive the JobKeeper payment. This will usually happen via the employer’s usual payroll cycle (weekly/fortnightly or monthly).
There is some leniency during this initial start-up phase of the scheme, where the ATO will accept that the minimum $1,500 per fortnight (for the first two “payment periods” 30 March – 12 April and 13 April – 26 April, $3,000 in total) has been paid, even if it has been paid late, provided it is paid in full, by the employer to their employee by 30 April 2020.
Going forward the employer must pay their employees in their normal pay cycle, within the JobKeeper fortnightly payment periods to be eligible to be reimbursed by the ATO each month.
Employers will be ineligible to receive JobKeeper if they pay their employees less than $1,500 per fortnight. Employers must pay the full amount ($1,500 before tax) to their eligible employees.
Superannuation Guarantee (SG)
The ATO has advised that new rules are being introduced with the intention that SG contributions are not required to be paid on additional payments that are made to employees as a result of JobKeeper. This has not yet been legislated or regulated. Our understanding is that if the employee is stood down and receives the $1,500 per fortnight JobKeeper payment, then SG contributions are not required to be paid by the employer on this payment. However, if the employee is still working and is paid $1,000 for work performed during the fortnight and then receives an additional $500 to ‘top up’ to the JobKeeper minimum payment, then SG Contributions must be paid in respect to the $1,000, but not on the additional $500. We will keep you informed once this is confirmed or corrected by the ATO.
Receiving JobKeeper from the ATO
Eligible Employers will need to report and apply online to the ATO each month to receive the JobKeeper payment. Information on eligible employees, including payroll information, along with the business’ actual monthly turnover and next month’s projected turnover will need to be supplied on a monthly basis to access the scheme.
With the exception of the first payment which is due in the first week of May, the ATO will pay the employer for each eligible employee monthly in arrears, 14 days after the end of the calendar month in which the fortnight ends.
This does mean that there will be a delay between the payment of employees, and reimbursement from the ATO, which may put a significant strain on business cashflow. When this cashflow concern was raised with the Government, the response was for the business to seek bank support for cashflow funding.