NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said about 400 extra staff have joined Service NSW this week to help handle a spike in enquiries from small businesses about coronavirus support payments.
Small businesses trying to navigate the eligibility criteria of 2021 COVID business grants and the JobSaver cashflow payment have complained of long wait times when trying to speak to a customer service representative from Service NSW over the phone.
A major point of confusion is how businesses that were established in 2020 can meet the decline in turnover test, which currently states the comparison period must contrast the weeks during the current coronavirus lockdown with a relevant period in 2019.
At a press conference on Thursday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters her government was trying to “cut out any red tape” in terms of filling in the form.
“Normally you have some integrity measures in place to make sure that people are going honest, but we would rather forego to make sure we’re getting money out the door,” Berejiklian said.
“I have been advised that things will improve from tomorrow … It’s my job to make sure that things are as efficient as possible.”
To help answer phone and email enquiries, the NSW government has added 400 staff to the Service NSW team this week and expects that grant applications and enquiries will be processed faster by next week.
Businesses in NSW that have been affected by recent COVID-19 restrictions can apply for the COVID-19 business grant. This grant program offers one-off payments of $7,500 to $15,000 to businesses depending on how much their revenue declines.
Businesses can also apply for the JobSaver cashflow payment that offers eligible businesses fortnightly payments of up to 40% of weekly payroll, with a maximum payment of $100,000 per week or $1,000 per week for sole traders.
Businesses must maintain their employee headcount as at July 13 to be eligible as well as experience a decline in turnover of 30% or more, and have recorded annual aggregated turnover of between $75,000 and $250 million.
James Trainor, tax partner at BDO Australia, says the terms and conditions of the JobSaver program state that businesses established in 2020 can find an alternative comparison period to meet the decline in turnover test.
However, due to the restrictive nature of the application, it’s not possible to successfully submit a form without referring to trading periods in 2019.
“Part of the problem is that the online application is very limited, so it asks questions that refer back to 2019 and stop you from simply making an application,” Trainor says.
When the JobKeeper wage subsidy was available the Australian Taxation Office released detailed information about how businesses could meet the eligibility criteria if they did not meet the standard conditions.
Service NSW is yet to release more details about alternative ways businesses can meet the decline in turnover test even though the JobSaver program is similar to JobKeeper.
“Businesses need this money now, the lockdown is impacting them today. That’s part of the challenge,” Trainor says.
Other points of confusion include whether the annual turnover cap includes Australia-wide business activities and whether the JobSaver payments will be exempt from tax.
Trainor says Service NSW has confirmed that the annual aggregated revenue cap of $250 million is not restricted to business activities in NSW.
A spokesperson from Service NSW has confirmed that new businesses can still be eligible for the COVID-19 business grants and the JobSaver payments if they meet alternative decline in turnover tests.
“Businesses in these circumstances should contact Service NSW to determine if an alternate test, or alternative supporting evidence, can be applied,” they said.