Applications for the federal government’s $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy package will open on April 20, leaving the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) less than three weeks to process claims and begin the flow of payments.
Tax office officials have begun working through administration provisions to deliver $1,500 fortnightly payments to an expected six million Australian workers in May and yesterday released new advice for prospective applicants.
With applications to flow in from next Monday, officials are also working to clarify eligibility criteria after more than 800,000 firms expressed interest in the subsidies, raising concern the ATO could be flooded with requests for alternative tests or tax commissioner discretion.
But as of Wednesday morning, the ATO remains tight-lipped about the likely extent of alternative tests for employers worried they will not meet headline eligibility criteria, promising more details would be available in coming days.
A series of pages posted to the tax office’s website on Tuesday detail a mix of known and new information about the wage subsidy scheme, including additional clarity about the headline turnover reduction test initially announced by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last month.
The tax office says firms with less than $1 billion in annual turnover will need to demonstrate a 30% fall in GST turnover year-on-year, measured in March, or through similar projections for April or the April-July 2020 quarter.
Information about alternative eligibility tests is due to be published in the coming days, but they will be based on businesses being able to show the headline turnover periods are “not appropriately comparable”. For example, firms that have been operating for less than 12 months may be able to access these tests.
Both the Treasurer and Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan have the power to broaden eligibility for the scheme under Fair Work Act amendments passed through parliament last week.
But speaking on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Frydenberg said there are no immediate plans to introduce new rules, clarifying the powers are intended for “unforeseen circumstances”.
“We have no plans to change the rules … we want to implement the program as passed through parliament,” Frydenberg said.
The ATO confirmed on Tuesday tax professionals will be allowed to apply for the JobKeeper scheme on behalf of eligible employers, while employees themselves have been given the right to opt out of the payments.
It was also revealed the first JobKeeper payment fortnight has technically already started for the purposes of back payments, with eligible firms intending to apply encouraged to meet the minimum $1,500 payment per nominated worker in the current pay period.