faces a confusing maze of obligations, many tax instalment systems
to do the job of one and there is not enough systemic pressure on
the cash economy.
Arrangements will be changed so that businesses need only one number to deal with the whole of government, payment and reporting is made simpler and opportunities for tax avoidance and participating in the cash economy are reduced.
Business, especially small business, has highlighted the cost of dealing with numerous regulatory bodies across the three tiers of government. Tax systems require business taxpayers to use different identification numbers for different tax types, on top of the identifiers used for other government regulatory requirements.
This was highlighted by the report of the Small Business Deregulation Taskforce (the Bell Report), which was established by the Government to examine the impact of regulation and red tape on Australian business.
The two systems (company instalments and provisional tax) under which businesses currently pay income tax by instalments provide little flexibility for payments to reflect current trading conditions or income flows. Individuals paying provisional tax want a fairer deal that allows them to pay tax in proportion to their earnings for a quarter after the end of that quarter. They are concerned about the arbitrariness of the provisional tax uplift factor, and see their competitors who use companies enjoying a cash flow advantage through paying their tax much later.
As a whole, the current design of the tax system requires a small/medium manufacturing employer (for example) to make, in the space of twelve months, at least 12 payments of tax instalments on behalf of employees, 4 income tax payments, 12 sales tax payments and, perhaps, 4 fringe benefits tax payments. That's 32 separate interactions with the Tax Office, plus income tax and Fringe Benefits returns, as well as other obligations (for example, lodging Group Certificates).
The inflexible nature of our tax payment systems was also highlighted in the Bell Report.
The most effective, simple and convenient way for most people to meet their annual tax obligations is to pay by instalments, as their income is earned. This eliminates large end-of-year tax bills and ensures that government has the revenue it needs during the year to provide benefits and services.
However, Australia's core withholding system - the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system - relies heavily on outmoded ideas of master and servant to define obligations. It simply has not kept pace with labour market trends and is falling further behind. Australia needs a modern, comprehensive withholding system for payments to workers.
The Prescribed Payments System (PPS) and Reportable Payments System (RPS) are essential to maintaining the integrity of the current system, but both add costs to the industries in which they operate.
The present tax laws are contained in a number of separate pieces of legislation. Despite recent simplification efforts, rules, definitions and procedures are not consistent. Taxpayers cannot get a private ruling about some tax issues and Tax Office oral advice is never binding.
The present taxes and collection systems allow too much scope for taxpayers to participate in the cash economy.
The Government's goal is for a fairer tax system that has the community's confidence, in which:
- business relates to all levels of government easily;
- business' obligations to collect tax on behalf of the Government and to make their own tax payments are made simpler and more uniform across business types;
- tax laws become clearer and taxpayer rights and obligations are more certain; and
- fewer people avoid tax by participating in the cash economy.
The Government's strategy is to:
- change the system of business registration to make it possible for business to deal with the whole of government at one place and with one business identifier;
- simplify and standardise business payment and reporting systems;
- improve the design of tax laws to minimise avoidance and maximise certainty; and
- make other changes to administration to make complying with tax obligations simpler and fairer.
With the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) the Government will rationalise identification of business across all regulatory bodies, so that GST will not be an additional requirement.
The Government will ensure that each business:
- has only one number to identify it for all government purposes, to be known as the Australian Business Number (ABN);
- can deal with, and obtain information and assistance from all of government through one, or as few as possible, entry points; and
- need notify any changes in their details only once and to only one authority.
To this end, the Tax Office will create and maintain a register of Australian businesses for all Commonwealth purposes. This system will be available to State, Territory and local government regulatory bodies to reduce the multiplicity of government registration and reporting.
At the Commonwealth level, business will only be required to quote one number for their public dealings under the tax and corporations laws. The number will not be their Tax File Number, ensuring that existing privacy safeguards are maintained.
The introduction of the ABN was recommended by the Bell Report as part of measures designed to:
- facilitate the introduction of a single tax compliance statement;
- streamline business interaction with the Commonwealth;
- provide a mechanism for collecting and distributing information through a single entry point; and
- facilitate the development of a single entry point and streamlined registration process.
The new business numbering arrangements will be introduced as soon as possible, and before the GST commences.
By ensuring that all bona fide businesses are registered and that withholding arrangements cover all payments by businesses to people who are not in an identified business, this system will enable the Tax Office to make significant inroads into the cash economy.
The Government will replace five existing payment and reporting systems (PAYE, PPS, RPS, provisional tax and company instalments) with one new, comprehensive pay as you go (PAYG) system.
The new PAYG arrangements are designed to achieve several aims:
- to get business taxpayers, both individuals and companies, paying their income tax at the same time
- currently companies have favorable treatment, paying their tax after the year of income, while individuals must pay all instalments within the income year;
- to allow provisional taxpayers with fluctuating incomes to make payments more closely aligned to their income receipts and trading conditions;
- to make it possible for business to make one net payment, or to claim one net refund, quarterly
- quarterly obligations will be due on 21 October, January, April and July;
- to abolish provisional tax and the uplift factor;
- to give business certainty about which payments to workers are subject to withholding;
- to respond, in conjunction with the introduction of the ABN, to recommendations of the Bell Report;
- to improve compliance and impact on the cash economy by facilitating cross-matching between GST and income tax information.
PAYG will be a flexible system. Taxpayer obligations will be transparent and easily managed as a by-product of other business activities. In this way, paying income tax and collecting other taxes will become simpler and less costly.
- businesses will pay quarterly instalments (based on income actually received) after the end of a quarter or, in some cases, annually;
- employees and similar workers will have tax withheld from the payments they receive; and
- everyone will be able to make additional payments as it suits them.
Quarterly income tax instalments
PAYG will replace both the provisional tax and company instalments systems. Businesses that register for the GST (whether company, sole trader or other) will pay their income tax in four quarterly instalments, at the time they remit their GST payments (or claim their GST refunds). They will be able to offset credits of GST against instalments of income tax or other payments (such as remittances of withholding tax instalments) that are made at that time.
A single quarterly payment will be made on the 21st day of the month following the end of the quarterly period. The payment relating to July, August and September will be paid on 21 October. Other quarterly payments will be due on 21 January, 21 April and 21 July.
Non-GST payers, who currently pay quarterly provisional tax will make quarterly PAYG payments. They will, as a general rule, remit amounts based on income actually derived in the quarter. Some non-GST payers will have the choice of remitting instalments based on last year's income, without an uplift factor.
Some very small businesses that are not involved in GST may elect to pay one annual instalment during the year. From the 2002-03 financial year, the date of this payment for both individuals and companies will become 21 October, following the end of the financial year.
For larger businesses, the timing of GST, company tax and withholding will not be fully aligned. GST returns for large business will be required each month, while their instalments of income tax will remain quarterly. Withholding remittances will also stay on the same pattern as at present, as large businesses can manage these obligations independently and they often handle the various tax obligations in separate parts of their organisation.
Calculating instalments on turnover
The advent of the GST will provide a way for businesses to calculate an instalment of income tax payable each quarter, without using last year's income and without having to apply an uplift factor.
Under this system, businesses registered for GST will use their quarterly GST sales figure and the ratio of tax payable to sales from the most recent year, to calculate the amount of their income tax instalment for that quarter.
For example, a business with total sales of $1 million in a year, a taxable income of $100,000 and tax payable of $36,000, would pay only 3.6 per cent of the quarterly GST sales figure as their quarterly income tax instalment.
If a business's circumstances change significantly so that the ratio of tax to sales for the most recent year is not the best means of calculating their liability, they may vary the instalment amount, as they do now.
Where a business incurs significant one off or non-recurring expenditure such as research and development costs, the normal tax ratio will probably be too high, so that the business will vary the amount of its income tax payment. Businesses will therefore have the option to vary their payments to ensure that tax payments are properly related to profits generated during the year.
Whom will this affect?
Individuals who pay provisional tax will benefit from these changes, significantly in many cases. Companies will have to pay tax earlier, but the impact of the earlier payments will be more than offset by GST cash flow benefits for all but larger companies.
Individuals and companies who presently pay income tax annually and who will not pay GST instalments will be able to choose whether to pay income tax annually or quarterly and whether to base their payments on last year's income tax paid.
Table 4.1: Simpler payment arrangements under PAYG
Size (tax payable)
|Old payment schedule||
New payment schedule
|Individual (small tax)||<$8,000 and in GST||Annual payment from 1 April||Quarterly
|Individual (small tax)||<$8,000 and not in GST||Annual payment from 1 April|
|Company (small tax)||<$8,000 and in GST||Annual payment 15 December|
|Company (small tax)||<$8,000 and not in GST||Annual payment 15 December|
|Company (medium tax)||$8,000 - $300,000||Quarterly
|Company (large tax)||>$300,000||Quarterly
|These individuals and company taxpayers have the choice whether to pay quarterly or remain annual payers. From 2003, their annual payment date will be aligned to 21 October.|
Current annual provisional taxpayers
Individuals who pay less than $8,000 tax per year on business and investment income currently pay provisional tax in a lump sum, in April or May each year, before all of the income for that year has been earned.
In 1995-96, 1.4 million individuals paid $5 billion in lump sum annual provisional tax instalments.
A: For individuals (small tax) who are GST payers, PAYG means . . .
They will pay income tax instalments quarterly after income is earned, at the same time that they make their GST payments. For income earned in July, August and September, payment will be due on 21 October. For income earned in April, May and June, the payment will be due in the following income year on 21 July.
In the first year of PAYG these businesses will pay less income tax than they do now. For example, instead of paying a lump sum in April/May of $8,000 a business would pay four instalments totaling $8,000 in October, January, April and July. Only three of these instalments will be made within the year.
The instalments will be based on the actual income earned, better reflecting trading conditions and income flows. This will mean that taxpayers will pay less when they earn less and more when they are in a better earnings position and have more funds available. These individuals will no longer have to pay provisional tax.
Individuals in GST
(Annual income tax <$8,000)
Payments move from April/May
to October, January, April and July
B: For individuals (small tax) who are not GST payers, PAYG means . . .
Small tax individuals not in the GST system can choose whether to pay quarterly or annually. If they choose to remain an annual payer they may, in some cases, also choose to base their payment on last year's income, without applying an uplift factor.
From 2003 the time for annual payments will move out from April/May 2003 to 21 October 2003, so that their payment date is aligned with that of similar sized companies. Effectively these taxpayers will pay 6 months later than they do now. These individuals will no longer have to pay provisional tax.
In 2002-03 these taxpayers will not have to make an income tax payment at all.
Individuals who choose to pay annually
(Not in GST and annual income tax <$8,000)
Payments move from April/May to October in 2003
Quarterly provisional taxpayers
Individuals who pay more than $8,000 tax per year on business and investment income currently pay quarterly provisional tax. In 1995-96, 136,000 individuals paid $3.2 billion in quarterly provisional tax instalments.
Quarterly provisional tax is paid on 1 September, 1 December, 1 April and 1 June, before all of the income for the quarter has been earned.
C: For other individuals, PAYG means . . .
Paying their tax 50 days later every quarter - on the 21st of the month after the quarter, instead of the 1stof the last month in the quarter. These individuals will no longer have to pay provisional tax.
In the first year of PAYG these taxpayers will pay less tax than they do now. For example, a taxpayer paying $100,000 income tax per year currently pays four instalments of $25,000 all within the year. Under PAYG the last instalment is not due until after the income year in July.
The payments will be based on the actual income earned and, in this way, will better reflect trading conditions and income flows. This will mean that these taxpayers will pay less when they earn less and more when they have more funds available.
Current quarterly provisional taxpayers
(Annual income tax >$8,000)
Payments move from September, December, March and June
to October, January, April and July
Annual company taxpayers
Companies that pay less than $8,000 tax per year are currently required to pay their income tax in one lump sum six months after the income year. If the income year ends on 30 June, the lump sum payment is due on 15 December. In 1995-96 there were 433,000 companies, paying annual instalments of around $290 million.
D: For small tax companies in the GST system, PAYG means . . .
They will pay quarterly after their income is earned, at the same time they make their GST payments. For example, assuming an income year ending 30 June, for income earned in July, August and September, payment will be due on 21 October.
The instalments will be based on the actual income earned in the most recent quarter, better reflecting trading conditions and income flows. This will mean that taxpayers will pay less when they earn less and more when they have more funds available.
Transitional measure: Under the new system payments will be made 9 months earlier, on average. To counter this the Government will defer one full year's tax, due under the existing system on 15 December 2000, so that it is paid in interest free instalments over 5 years. This means that the changed arrangements are effectively phased in over 5 years.
As a consequence, these taxpayers will actually pay less income tax in the first year of PAYG. For example, a company that pays $8,000 tax on 15 December, will instead pay three smaller instalments in October, January and April and the fourth instalment after the end of the income year in July.
Small tax companies in the GST system
(Annual income tax < $8,000)
Payment moves from December
to October, January, April and July
E: For small tax companies not in the GST system , PAYG means . . .
They can choose whether to pay quarterly or annually.
From 2003 the time for their annual payment moves forward 54 days. For the income year ending 30 June their annual payment will move from 15 December 2003 to 21 October 2003. This will align annual payments made by companies and individuals.
Small tax companies not in GST that choose to pay annually
(Annual income tax < $8,000)
Payments move from December to October in 2003
Companies that pay 4 instalments
Medium tax companies pay between $8,000 and $300,000 tax per year in four instalments. Only the first payment falls within the income year. In 1995-96, these companies numbered 92,000 and paid $3.9 billion of tax.
F: For medium tax companies,
Medium tax companies
(Annual income tax between $8,000 and $300,000)
Payments move from June, September, December and March
to October, January, April and July
Large tax companies are those that pay more than $300,000 annually. Their income tax is paid in four instalments with the first two, March and June (assuming an income year ended 30 June), falling within the income year. In 1995-96, these companies numbered around 5,000 and paid $12.2 billion in tax.
G: For large tax companies, PAYG means . . .
They will pay quarterly after income is earned, at the same time they make their GST payments. For example, for income earned in July, August and September payment will be due on 21 October, assuming an income year ending 30 June. The instalments will be based on the actual income earned better reflecting trading conditions and income flows.
Transitional measure: Under the new system payments will be made 5 months earlier. For these companies one instalment will still be due under the existing payment system after the first payment is made under PAYG. To prevent them having to pay tax for the current year and the previous year at the same time, the Government will defer the fourth instalment (not including any outstanding balance) for the 1999-00 income year, so that it is payable in interest free instalments over 2½ years.
Large tax companies
(Annual income tax >$300,000)
Payments move from March, June, September and December
to October, January, April and July
A second arm of PAYG will provide more certainty about which payments made by businesses for work are subject to withholding.
Withholding arrangements will apply to payments to employees and other office holders (covered by the existing PAYE system) and, in addition, a payer will withhold:
- from specified payments, such as labour hire arrangements;
- from a payment for work if the payee agrees to instalment deductions being made (voluntary agreements); and
- from a payment on an invoice that does not include quotation of an ABN.
The new withholding system will present an opportunity for the Tax Office to modernise the declaration and reconciliation arrangements that apply to the PAYE system (eg employment declaration forms, issuing of Group Certificates, etc).
The Government has been approached by a number of industries and their workers seeking a means to make source deductions while avoiding the employer and employee labels that go with the existing PAYE system. To facilitate this in the future, the Government will introduce a mechanism whereby payments can be specified as subject to withholding. Only one category of payment will be specified initially:
- a payment to a worker from a labour hire firm, for work performed for a client of the labour hire firm.
Importantly, this approach will allow the tax instalment collection system to adapt to changes in our evolving economic circumstances. New categories will be able to be added by regulation, but this will only occur after appropriate consultation.
The new system will have added flexibility to meet the needs of individual businesses. In cases where a business and its workers are not otherwise covered by withholding, it will be possible for them to elect to participate in the withholding system.
Withholding where no ABN is quoted
The introduction of the ABN will provide an important opportunity to improve compliance. Businesses will generally be required to issue an invoice quoting their ABN. In most cases this will happen as a part of the normal GST arrangements for tax invoices. However, a person will not be able to quote an ABN if they are not carrying on a business (as the Tax Office will not issue them one). Therefore, if a business receives an invoice for work or services rendered, that does not quote an ABN, they will be required to withhold from the payment (just as they do for payments to their other workers).
This approach will do away with the need for difficult judgements by businesses about whether the service providers they engage are employees or contractors.
It will also have a significant impact on the cash economy.
The Government will abolish the PPS and RPS reporting systems. The proposed ABN will provide a basis for a simple reporting system if tax evasion is suspected in a particular industry. The new reporting capability will only be activated if the Government is convinced that it is necessary and then only for a specified period. When it is invoked, a business in an affected industry will only be required to report the information contained in the invoices it already receives.
Alignment of business tax obligations - one return and one payment each quarter
Under the new arrangements, all quarterly payment and remittance dates - including income tax instalment payments, withholding remittances and Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) payments - will be aligned with the new quarterly GST and PAYG payment dates, ie 21 October, 21 January, 21 April and 21 July. Most businesses will, therefore, be able to complete a single compliance statement once a quarter, and make one quarterly payment. Business will be able to make a net payment after offsetting creditable amounts such as diesel fuel credits (see Chapter 2, and Reforming customs administration below) and GST input tax credits.
Excess credits will be refunded and refund claims for any quarter can be lodged on the first day after the quarter. The Tax Office will pay refunds within 14 days of the claim or be liable to pay interest.
From 1 July 1999, a year before the introduction of the new PAYG system, businesses that remit PAYE monthly and quarterly will have an extra fourteen days to make their payments. That is, the remittance dates for monthly and quarterly PAYE will move from the 7th day of the month to the 21st. The date for remittance of PAYE by large employers will not change.
The Government will promote measures that contribute to improved compliance and make:
- tax administration simpler for taxpayers with simple affairs;
- the Tax Office more accountable for its oral advice; and
- taxpayer services more accessible.
Reduced period of review and adjustment
Under existing arrangements, an assessment can be amended by the Tax Office within four years. For taxpayers with simple tax affairs who are doing the right thing, this period is too long. The lack of finality results in uncertainty and the need to keep records for unnecessary periods.
To reduce the uncertainty and the compliance costs for these taxpayers, the Government will limit the amendment period to two years. In practice this will mean that the majority of salary or wage earners will not be subject to further Tax Office scrutiny after this time.
An unlimited period will continue to apply in cases of fraud or evasion.
Binding oral advice
The Government will ensure that taxpayers with simple tax affairs can rely on oral advice received from the Tax Office. Such advice will be binding on the Commissioner in much the same way as written private rulings.
The current system of binding rulings has several shortcomings. For example, at present the Commissioner cannot give a ruling on procedural, administrative or collection matters and recent Court decisions have indicated that a ruling cannot be given on a question of fact.
The rulings system will be made comprehensive and its scope more certain.
Charging in special cases
At present, all Tax Office advice is provided free of charge. This includes everything from very simple enquiries, through to extremely complex multi-billion dollar deals. To provide binding advice to taxpayers in complex cases, the Tax Office must commit high level technical resources for extended periods. This represents a significant cost to the community.
The Government will examine a system of user charges for private rulings and other binding advice given to large business taxpayers in complex cases. The user charge will be used to maintain suitably skilled professional resources, able to provide timely, quality advice.
Better access and modern delivery
The Government will improve community access to the services of the Tax Office and other agencies.
The Tax Office will enter into arrangements with other government agencies to make services available through networked access points. The whole of government approach will take advantage of electronic service delivery and improve information sharing between relevant government agencies. This will mean a tax system that is more convenient, can be easily understood and is seen to be fair.
Other initiatives will enhance interaction between the Tax Office and taxpayers. These include better taxpayer enquiry services and the use of modern electronic service delivery technologies.
Promoting electronic connections
The Tax Office will continue to look at ways to promote greater use of electronic connections for the tax obligations of business. This will reduce compliance costs (including GST costs) and help to get Australian business online.
One way of simplifying the tax system and eliminating the need for some people to lodge tax returns would be to abolish the categories of income tax deductions for employees that are known as work related expenses. The money saved by abolishing those claims would then be put into either a standard deduction or rebate, or even into further tax rate cuts, and wage earners' tax returns would be made simpler.
The Government has considered this approach, but concluded that, while the idea of simplifying the income tax return process further is compelling, each of these approaches has problems. For example, the abolition of work related expense deductions would either leave a significant number of taxpayers disadvantaged, or be too expensive to deliver. Furthermore, denial of any of these deductions would add complexity to the FBT system.
However, the Government is still interested in simplifying the tax obligations of wage earners and has therefore asked the Taxation Task Force to undertake further work on proposals to simplify and rationalise deduction and rebate claims, or find alternative ways to deliver those benefits. These proposals will be brought forward in the normal course.
One option that the Tax Office will explore is replacing the existing taxpayer prepared annual return with a Tax Office generated income statement. The statement would contain the income details that have been reported through the new withholding and other systems. Taxpayers could simply confirm the information by telephone to receive their refund, or add details of any other income and claims for rebates or deductions as appropriate. Conceptually a statement approach would apply to 3½ million taxpayers whose income is derived from wages and salaries, dividends and interest investments and who have the more straight-forward rebates and deductions. The Tax Office will consult with a view to piloting these statements for the income year 2000-01.
A second approach that the Tax Office will explore is the idea of providing a choice about whether to lodge a tax return for people with small balances. For around one million people each year, the result of lodging their tax return is either less than $100 to pay or less than $100 refunded. Almost half of these people incur return preparation costs and many are receiving only salary or wages, or a social security benefit. The Tax Office will also consult with a view to establishing the viability of optional tax returns for these classes of people.
The tax laws will be brought together in a code that supports a more cohesive approach to compliance and administration. Both the tax code and the tax system will:
- be designed from the taxpayers' perspective;
- integrate all the tax rules, using consistent terminology and definitions;
- use general principles in preference to long and detailed provisions;
- be sustainable, easily understood and difficult to avoid; and
- be developed over time to better link with related laws such as social security and customs and excise.
Subsume the Tax Law Improvement Project
The Tax Law Improvement Project, with the assistance of the Consultative Committee and private sector representatives, has developed considerable experience in writing laws so that they can be more easily understood. The Government will be giving further consideration as to how to best make use of this expertise in developing the new integrated tax code. Accordingly, the resources of that Project will be made available to assist in the implementation of the Government's tax reform package.
The Government will modernise the general anti-avoidance rules (Part IVA of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936) to ensure that they deal with existing and emerging risks. They will be broadened to include avoidance schemes involving the use of rebates, credits and losses.
A review of specific anti-avoidance provisions will also be undertaken to identify those that can be consolidated and harmonised in line with the principles of the integrated tax code. Redundant provisions will be removed.
The cash economy
The whole package of tax reform will enhance community confidence in the fairness of the tax system. The combined effect of the various measures will be greater fairness, transparency and certainty, resulting in increased compliance. Some specific measures will assist the Tax Office to make greater in-roads into the cash economy. The GST, the alignment of business tax payments, the establishment of the ABN and the new withholding arrangements will, together, result in more timely receipt of better information and a more comprehensive matching capability for the Tax Office to act upon. The level of integration of the GST into the tax system as a whole will be a key feature of the Government's approach.
The introduction of the ABN will make it much more difficult for those operating in the cash economy to avoid their tax responsibilities. It will also put a stop to people opting out of employment relationships to avoid withholding taxes and thereby slipping into the cash economy.
Those within the community who continue to flout our tax laws and place an unfair burden upon others, will no longer get away with it. More scrutiny will also be given to the tax-driven activities of high wealth individuals, tax manoeuvring of international groups and artificial end-of-year tax planning. A special focus will be given to activities aimed at exploiting any of the new measures foreshadowed in this package.
The Commissioner of Taxation has estimated that $3.5 billion over three years in additional income tax revenue will be generated as a result of these collective impacts.
Why are there no specific measures to counter erosion of the PAYE base?
There is growing pressure on the PAYE tax base.
One response would be to deem wider classes of persons as employees and bring them into the PAYE tax base. But this could affect legitimate contractors.
This package will relieve some of the worst aspects of the problem, without the need to adopt approaches that would adversely impact on genuine contractors. This will occur as:
The replacement of the Diesel Fuel Rebate Scheme and the creation of the Government's innovative diesel fuel credit, delivered through the GST, provide an opportunity to remove duplication in paperwork and reporting. Claiming a diesel fuel credit should not be an additional burden on business.
The fuel substitution legislation, which came into effect on 31 January 1998, will be reassessed in light of the new diesel fuel credit arrangements.
Existing Customs concessions, rebates, remissions and regulations will be rationalised to deliver the intended results in a simpler, less costly and consistent manner, while ensuring that compliance is maintained. Consultation with industry will be an important element of this process.
* A positive revenue or outlays number implies a positive impact on the budget balance.
(a) Revenue impact of moving provisional tax payers onto the new pay as you go system.