Small businesses selling to large companies could legally demand that their trading partners adopt electronic invoicing, under a new Business eInvoicing Right (BER) put forward by the federal government.
On Wednesday, the government opened consultation on the establishment of a BER that would legally require a business to adopt electronic invoices if a business they trade with requested it.
According to Minister for Financial Services and the Digital Economy Jane Hume, the government wants to investigate how the BER should be adopted and whether it should be rolled out in stages.
Under the government’s proposal, the BER would be delivered in phases, with the first phase to include large businesses, and the later phases to include small and medium-sized businesses.
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A staggered rollout
In the first stage of the proposal, SMEs could exercise their right to request e-invoices from a large business. Larger businesses would then be legally required to send the SME an e-invoice.
Over time, medium businesses and then small businesses would also be covered by the BER, meaning they would have to adopt e-invoicing, if they received a request from another business.
To make and receive these requests, businesses would need to register for electronic invoicing on the Pan-European Public Procurement Online (Peppol) network.
Run by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Peppol is the framework for sending e-invoices and procurement documents that governments have widely adopted.
Simon Foster, electronic invoicing spokesperson at Xero, says legislating a right for businesses to request e-invoicing is “a really interesting approach” and one that he hasn’t seen in other parts of the world.
He says the accounting platform Xero, which offers e-invoicing as part of its subscriptions for no additional cost, supports the uptake of digital invoicing in Australia.
According to Foster, the government’s proposal wouldn’t put a burden on small businesses because they can choose to participate in the initiative, and ask their large business partners for e-invoices if they want to.
“It’s not until mid-2025 before there’s any requirement placed on smaller businesses, and I think that’s a sensible approach,” he says.
The consultation, which closes on February 22, is part of a wider push by the federal government to encourage the uptake of e-invoicing.
Last year, the federal government directed all of its departments and agencies to make the switch to electronic invoicing when procuring goods and services from SMEs by mid-2022.
There are now 10,000 businesses registered for Peppol e-invoicing, according to the ATO’s acting assistant commissioner Mark Stockwell.
In a statement, Stockwell described the figure as “a milestone”, thanking tax agents, bookkeepers, associations and businesses for contributing to the update of the platform.
“This achievement would not have been made possible without the support of our key partners,” Stockwell said.
The government’s latest consultation on the Business eInvoicing Right is its second call for submissions about mandating the use of e-invoices within 12 months.
Last November, Treasury also looked into different options for mandating the adoption of e-invoicing by businesses.
At the time, accounting groups said it wasn’t the right moment to make the practice compulsory because businesses were grappling with the pandemic and needed time to consider software options.