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  • Findings report Top 100 (income tax) program

    You can download the report Findings Report Top 100 Program (income tax) June 2020 (PDF, 391 KB)This link will download a file.

    We published our first (interim) Findings Report for the Top 100 Program (income tax) for tax assurance reviews completed to 30 June 2019. This is our second Findings Report for the Top 100 Program (income tax) for tax assured reviews completed to 30 June 2020. This paper outlines:

    • our key findings and observations for this period, and
    • explains how we apply the justified trust methodology to obtain greater assurance that large public and multinational taxpayers are
      • paying the right amount of income tax, or
      • identify areas of tax risk for further action.
       

    Top 100 engagement

    The Top 100 population:

    • consists of public and multinational businesses and superfunds that have substantial economic activity related to Australia
    • are the largest contributors to corporate income tax, excise, and petroleum resource rent tax (PRRT) collections
    • reported $34.1 billion or 41% of all corporate income tax for 2017-2018
    • are also some of the largest remitters of goods and services tax (GST).

    As the Top 100 can have a significant impact on the health of our tax system, we engage with them on an ongoing basis to manage their compliance and assure their tax performance. We cannot disclose the assurance ratings of individual taxpayers, however a number of taxpayers are now publicly disclosing their ratings in their tax transparency reports.

    The Justified Trust program benefits Top 100 taxpayers, their shareholders, key stakeholders and the wider community. The program:

    • provides certainty about their tax outcomes and effectiveness of tax governance processes
    • ensures boards can be confident they are aware of and understand the tax profile of their organisations, and
    • provides an objective mechanism to understand how the tax profile of their organisation compares to their peers and others in the market.

    By disclosing their assurance ratings, shareholders and the community can gain insights and confidence about the Australian tax outcomes and tax contribution of the organisation.

    Top 100 taxpayers are initially identified based on the size of their Australian operations. Other factors we consider include income tax, GST or excise paid and the influence the taxpayer may have on their market segment. We review and moderate the Top 100 population annually.

    Note: There are 74 economic groups in the Top 100 population in 2019. This number varies year-on-year and some groups have more than one taxpayer in the Top 100. Accordingly, the number of assurance reviews annually in the program does not equal 100.

    Our approach

    Justified trust is a concept from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

    We introduced the justified trust concept starting with the Top 100 population in 2016. Since that time, we have worked closely with the Top 100 taxpayers with the greatest impact on the tax system to detail:

    • our concerns
    • areas of their economic and tax affairs over which we have assurance, and
    • our future engagement approach in their annual tax assurance reports (TARs).

    Our engagement with Top 100 taxpayers is tailored based on their specific behaviours, level of risk they exhibit, and the level of assurance we have obtained.

    The justified trust concept expanded to GST for the Top 100 population in 2019, and we continue to work towards integrating our reviews for GST and income tax.

    We apply the justified trust methodology and seek to obtain assurance of four focus areas:

    • that appropriate tax risk and governance frameworks exist and are applied in practice
    • that none of the specific tax risks we have flagged to the market are present
    • the tax outcomes of atypical, new or large transactions are appropriate
    • any misalignment between tax and accounting results is explainable and appropriate and the right amount of tax on profit from Australian-linked businesses is being recognised in Australia.

    This paper outlines our findings for the four justified trust focus areas for income tax.

    Overall levels of assurance

    There is a meaningful portion (approximately 30%) of Top 100 taxpayers who have attained overall high assurance (justified trust). This means that we have obtained assurance that these taxpayers have paid the right amount of Australian income tax for the year reviewed.

    The overall level of assurance is based on an objective view (having regard to objective evidence) of whether the taxpayer is considered to have paid the right amount of tax.

    Ratings

    We apply consistent rating categories when considering our overall level of assurance.

    Green dot denotes high rating

    High

    We obtained assurance that you paid the right amount of Australian income tax for the income year(s) reviewed. This means we are unlikely to contact you again in relation to the income year(s) reviewed unless something new comes to our attention.

    Yellow dot denotes medium rating

    Medium

    We obtained assurance in relation to some but not all areas reviewed. For those areas not yet assured, further evidence and/or analysis will be required before we obtain assurance that you paid the right amount of Australian income tax for the income year(s) reviewed.

    Orange dot denotes low rating

    Low

    We have specific concerns around your compliance with the Australian income tax laws and the amount of Australian income tax paid for the income year(s) reviewed.

    The reviews completed to the end of June 2020 resulted in the following ratings:

    Overall assurance ratings for the last TAR issued as at July 2019

    Donut graph depicts overall assurance ratings as at July 2019. Highlights that 6% attained high assurance, 15% attained medium high assurance, 58% attained medium assurance, 4% attained low medium assurance and 17% attained low assurance.

    Overall assurance ratings for the last TAR issued as at July 2020

    Donut graph depicts overall assurance ratings as at July 2020. Highlights that 29% attained high assurance, 51% attained assurance and 20% attained low assurance.

    Note: The medium-high and low-medium ratings are unique to the Top 100 program. These ratings are not used in the Top 1000 program and were only used as interim ratings in the Top 100 program last year. That is, where taxpayers were close to transitioning to a higher rating. This year we have reverted to the three main categories of ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ in the Top 100 program. We have now moved away from these mid-point ratings and only use them in specific (very limited) circumstances.

    Overall assurance rating for the last TAR issued by industry as at July 2019 and July 2020

    Graph compares the overall assurance rating as at July 2019 and July 2020  broken down into 4 industry groups. Comparison highlights that there has been an improvement across all 4 sectors.

    Note:

    • These groupings align with the industry segments used by the ATO as part of the Corporate Tax Transparency Reporting. Except where we have amalgamated the Banking, Finance and Investment (BFI), Insurance (ISR) and Superannuation (SUP) segments into a Financial Services (FS) segment. The groupings are: Banking, Finance and Investment, Superfunds and Insurance (FS), Manufacturing, Construction and Agriculture (MCA), Mining, Energy and Water (MEW), Wholesale, Retail and Services (WRS).
    • The population depicted in Graph 2 has grown this year relative to the prior year. This is because some Top 100 taxpayers were not issued with a TAR in the prior year (that is, as at 30 June 2019). This included those taxpayers whose tax affairs were completely or extensively covered by settlement deeds, and new entrants to the Top 100 program who had not yet completed their first 18-month Pre-lodgment Compliance Review cycle. Overall assurance ratings for the most recent TAR issued.

    Observations

    During 2020 we saw an increase in the number of taxpayers achieving high assurance with a shift from 6% to 30%. We observed continued improvement in ratings across all sectors. There were two key drivers for improvement. Firstly, a significant amount of work was undertaken by us and taxpayers during the year to progress and finalise assurance reviews. Secondly, in some cases we saw improvements of governance and tax outcomes that resulted in an improved assurance outcome. Whilst assurance ratings improved across the population, delays in work programs due to the impacts of COVID-19 meant that the number of taxpayers achieving high assurance during 2020 was less than we had anticipated.

    For Top 100 taxpayers who have had more than one TAR issued, over 50% have increased their overall assurance rating between the first and last TAR issued.

    80% of taxpayers reviewed obtained either an overall high assurance rating (30%) or a medium assurance rating (50%). A medium assurance rating means we obtained assurance in relation to the majority of areas reviewed but not all areas. This reflects, to some degree, the complexity of large businesses and also signals there is still more to do in some cases.

    Acknowledging the complexities of tax law, taxpayers may achieve high assurance notwithstanding they are in dispute with the Commissioner about a particular matter, provided all other areas have achieved an appropriate assurance rating. However, if the matter being disputed relates to a material systemic issue and features elements of profit shifting and/or tax avoidance, the taxpayer will not be able to achieve high assurance.

    The Top 100 population are our largest taxpayers and we expected that it would take more than one year to review the entire business and attain high assurance. A meaningful portion (approximately 30%) of Top 100 taxpayers have now attained overall high assurance (justified trust). This is a marked increase from our first findings report, which stated that 6% of Top 100 taxpayers had reached high assurance overall. This means that we have obtained assurance that these taxpayers have paid the right amount of Australian income tax for the year reviewed. For these taxpayers, we have moved to a tailored high assurance engagement approach to maintain the level of justified trust obtained.

    In the short period of time between 30 June 2020 and 31 July 2020, we have finalised a further four assurance reviews for Top 100 taxpayers with a high overall assurance rating (justified trust). Similarly, and consistent with this trajectory, we are expecting more Top 100 taxpayers (approximately a further 20% to 30%) to transition from medium to high assurance in the 2020-21 year. This assumes that these Top 100 taxpayers provide the required objective evidence to support the high assurance outcome, and that we don’t identify any new or further issues in the review (and is also dependent on COVID-19 impacts, including ATO resourcing). These improvements will primarily come from the ATO and taxpayers achieving completion of the planned Tax Assurance Reports for the year and addressing the areas tabled in the Future Assurance Plans. We expect that some taxpayer’s will also make some improvements in governance and tax outcomes.

    For Top 100 taxpayers that are not at overall high assurance, we are continuing to work closely with them to attain a higher level of assurance as part of the yearly Pre-lodgment Compliance Review (PCR) and Annual Compliance Arrangement (ACA) processes. This is documented within each TAR, specifically in the personalised future assurance plan contained in section 1 of each report.

    We have 20% of Top 100 taxpayers at a low level of overall assurance, and this number has remained relatively constant from the prior year. This is representative of Top 100 taxpayers with a higher risk profile who are typically involved in complex and numerous disputes, or where we have significant concerns around the taxpayer’s compliance with the Australian income tax laws. We will comprehensively and intensively review low assurance taxpayers and are more likely to use audits to resolve issues.  

    Tax risk management and governance

    Tax governance framework

    Tax governance is a key focus area under the justified trust methodology for large public and multinational businesses.

    We consider the existence, design and operation of a tax control framework for income tax focusing on the six controls set out in the director's summary in the Tax risk management and governance review guide (the Guide).

    The Guide:

    • sets out principles for board-level and managerial-level responsibilities, with examples of evidence that demonstrates the design and operational effectiveness of tax control frameworks
    • focuses on the processes and controls in place and may not necessarily reflect the tax risk appetite or capabilities and experience of the tax or finance team, or their advisers.

    Ratings

    We apply the following staged rating system when reviewing and assessing tax governance. Practical guidance about how we rate tax governance is available on ato.gov.au.

    Green dot denotes stage 3

    Stage 3

    You provided evidence to demonstrate that a tax control framework exists, has been designed effectively and is operating effectively in practice.

    yellow dot denotes stage 2

    Stage 2

    You provided evidence to demonstrate that a tax control framework exists and has been designed effectively.

    Orange dot denotes stage 1.

    Stage 1

    You provided evidence to demonstrate a tax control framework exists.

    Red dot denotes not evidenced or concerns.

    Not evidenced or concerns

    You have not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate a tax control framework exists or we have significant concerns with your tax risk management and governance.

    The reviews completed to the end of June 2020 resulted in the following ratings which have been grouped by industry:

    Overall governance rating for the last TAR issued by industry as at July 2019 and July 2020

    Graph compares the overall assurance rating as at July 2019 and July 2020  broken down into 4 industry groups. Comparison highlights that there has been an improvement across all 4 sectors.

    Overall governance rating for the most recent TAR issued. The industry groupings include: Banking, Finance and Investment, Superfunds and Insurance (FS), Manufacturing, Construction and Agriculture (MCA), Mining, Energy and Water (MEW), Wholesale, Retail and Services (WRS).

    Observations

    During 2020 we saw an increase in the number of taxpayers achieving Stage 2 and Stage 3 ratings for governance. We observed continued improvement in governance. These shifts reflect the efforts of many taxpayers to enhance their tax risk management frameworks and provide evidence in support of their governance processes.

    In our reviews we look for evidence that a tax control framework exists, and focus on the following 6 controls set out in the Guide which are aligned with the following justified trust objectives:

    Stage 1

    A stage 1 rating recognises that a tax control framework exists but reflects that further work is needed to demonstrate that the framework is designed effectively. We have seen that most Top 100 taxpayers have provided evidence that a tax control framework exists. We have seen a decrease in the number of taxpayers this year at stage 1, as these taxpayers have provided evidence addressing their design gaps and accordingly proceeded to a higher rating (stage 2).

    We continue to work with those Top 100 taxpayers with a stage 1 rating to progress to a stage 2 rating as part of current and future reviews. In this regard, the process for reporting tax risks to the Board and the periodic internal controls testing program remain the common areas with limited formal documentation.

    Stage 2

    A stage 2 rating is required to achieve overall high assurance. This means taxpayers have provided objective evidence to demonstrate that a tax control framework exists and has been designed effectively as against our areas of focus set out above.

    We continue to see an investment in tax governance, and this is reflected in our findings as we have seen an increase of approximately 10% of taxpayers assigned an overall stage 2 rating this year.

    We are currently working with a number of Top 100 taxpayers currently at stage 2 to proceed to the next stage, stage 3. However, for many taxpayers, a Stage 2 rating will be a satisfactory assurance rating.

    Stage 3

    To obtain a stage 3 rating we look for evidence that the documented tax control framework is both designed and operating effectively in practice.

    This stage requires evidence in the form of a report of findings that taxpayers have independently tested the operation of the framework in practice. The internal audit function is independent and can undertake the testing, as they report to the audit committee rather than to management (and are therefore independent to and separate from the tax function).

    The report of findings should conclude that the documented tax control framework is operating effectively. Where improvements or enhancements are recommended, we will seek to understand whether these are (or will be) implemented.

    We have seen a small increase in taxpayers assigned an overall stage 3 rating this year.

    Red flag

    A red flag rating is only applied after careful consideration if we have:

    • no evidence demonstrating that a tax control framework exists
    • significant concerns with the taxpayer’s tax control framework as evidenced by the high level of errors identified, or
    • fundamental concerns about the robustness of existing tax controls.

    There is a small percentage of taxpayers in the Top 100 population that have been assigned a red flag rating.

    Not rated

    This rating has been applied in the Top 100 program in a very small number of cases. The reasons for this vary but include large scale mergers and acquisitions, and also where the tax control framework was being substantially redesigned (and the changes were so significant that it was appropriate to defer the assessment to the following year). 

    Tax risks flagged to market / Significant and new transactions and specific tax risks

    We seek to understand and review the income tax treatment of the taxpayer’s business activities, particularly significant and new transactions. We also look for and review risks or concerns communicated to the market and determine if they are present.

    Ratings

    We apply a consistent rating system when reviewing and assessing the income tax treatment of taxpayer’s business activities including significant and new transactions and tax risks communicated to the market.

    Green dot denotes high rating.

    High

    We obtained a high level of assurance that the right Australian income tax outcomes were reported in your income tax return(s). This means we are unlikely to contact you again in relation these matters for the income year(s) reviewed unless something new comes to our attention.

    Yellow dot denotes medium rating

    Medium

    More evidence and or analysis is required to establish a reasonable basis to obtain a high level of assurance.

    Orange dot denotes low rating

    Low

    More evidence and or analysis is required to determine whether a tax risk is present.

    Red dot denotes red flag.

    Red flag

    Likely non-compliance with the income tax law.

    Blue dot denotes out of scope.

    Out of scope

    We have not evaluated this item and not expressed a rating.

    Observations

    Our assurance reviews cover a number of areas which range from significant transactions and items in the tax return to specific risks either identified in the tax return or communicated to the market. In our reviews we consider all relevant Taxpayer Alerts and Practical Compliance Guidelines (PCGs) to assess whether they apply to the taxpayer’s particular circumstances. We also review Reportable Tax Position Schedule disclosures.

    The assurance areas covered in the analysis for tax risks flagged to market, and significant and new transactions often have material tax consequences if they have been incorrectly treated or calculated for tax. Typically, this is where most of our time during the review is spent to obtain higher levels of assurance. This also has the greatest impact on the overall assurance ratings depicted above.

    In the past 12 to 18 months we have issued 19 new tax alerts, PCGs and relevant public rulings to address strategic tax risks and areas of concern. For all new tax alerts, PCGs and relevant public rulings refer to the Legal database.

    Many Top 100 taxpayers have arrangements that are covered by a guidance or advice product and we are working with these taxpayers to move away from any high-risk arrangements. In several cases, there is more evidence or work needed to be able to assure that the arrangement or transaction has been reported correctly and the right amount of tax has been paid or alternatively further compliance action (such as an audit) is required. It is therefore expected the ratings for these areas will improve over time as the assurance review is completed or, if there is a dispute underway, it is resolved.

    The following sections outline areas of concerns and items that attract our attention. We do not see these in all cases.

    Transfer mis-pricing

    Transfer pricing is a common assurance area with approximately 85% of Top 100 taxpayers reporting related party dealings. This area encompasses a substantially large number of dealings and they can range from simple to very complex in nature.

    The following is a breakdown of the typical transfer pricing areas reviewed across a range of dealings:

    • adequacy of information available to support transfer pricing positions
    • inbound and outbound supplies of goods and services
    • international related party financing transactions including
      • arm’s length conditions
      • related party derivatives
      • interest free loans outbound and inbound
      • cash pooling arrangements
      • guarantee fees
       
    • management and administrative services
    • licence fees and royalties
    • technical services
    • insurance or reinsurance
    • research and development (R&D) performed on behalf of overseas related party
    • sale or use of Australian intangible assets overseas (including failure to adequately recognise use of Australian assets)
    • offshore hubs (marketing/procurement) or service centres
    • inbound distribution arrangements

    Common issues arising in relation to transfer pricing analyses include:

    • The size and complexity of the global value chain in the Top 100 population - The Top 100 often have very complex businesses and Australia can be a significant part of the value chain. We are finding this takes time to source relevant information to support the transfer pricing analysis.
    • Changes in transfer pricing policy or methodologies without an underlying change to the functional profile of a taxpayer, and inappropriate methodologies being selected given the taxpayer functional profile.
    • Related party financing transactions – Top 100 taxpayers generally have at least one financing related issue that has been reviewed. Where applicable, we would expect to see evidence supporting a Top 100 taxpayer’s self-assessment of the risk indicators and risk zone rating pursuant to PCG 2017/4. High quality documentation is also expected to be maintained to support transfer pricing positions and debt allocations with respect to financing related income or deductions.
    • Services transactions, the beneficial nature of services and appropriateness of allocation keys is not well documented or evidenced.
    • Royalty, licensing or intellectual property arrangements, the performance of development, enhancement, maintenance, protection and exploitation activities is not well documented or evidenced.
    • Transactions that are covered by an Advance Pricing Arrangement (APA) or Bilateral Advance Pricing Arrangement (BAPA). We will review the agreements and the annual compliance report that is required to be submitted annually for APAs and BAPAs to ensure that taxpayers are continuing to follow the terms of the agreement/s. Where transactions are subject to settlement agreements or private rulings, we also review these to confirm that taxpayers are adhering to the terms of the settlement agreement or implementing the relevant transactions in accordance with the ruling.

    Structured arrangements designed to reduce Australian tax

    In some cases, we see arrangements that are structured to reduce Australian tax. In those cases, the low assurance ratings and red flags are sometimes associated with related party transactions (including third party back-to-back transactions) promoted or designed to achieve Australian tax savings including:

    • Related party financing transactions with special terms designed to
      • defer or eliminate withholding tax while preserving annual Australian income tax deductions
      • achieve cross-border hybrid mismatch outcomes (e.g., double deductions or deductions with no corresponding income), or
      • circumvent specific anti-avoidance rules such as thin capitalisation and debt/equity classification rules.
       
    • Changes in membership of Australian tax groups through internal transactions or decisions designed to
      • increase or accelerate deductible losses or depreciation
      • generate Australian tax deductions for anticipated asset write offs
      • avoid tax on anticipated terminations or disposals, or
      • generate foreign tax credits.
       
    • Migration of Australian generated intangible assets to overseas related parties in order to reduce Australian taxable income.
    • Mischaracterisation of international related party payments (including undivided payments made under related party agreements) designed to
      • generate Australian tax deductions, or
      • eliminate withholding tax obligations in connection with the appropriate recognition of the use of intangible assets.
       
    • Interposing partnerships or other entities designed to
      • shift recognition of income and/or change the nature of income
      • reduce or eliminate withholding tax, or
      • avoid the application of targeted anti-avoidance measures.
       

    Other common areas attracting our attention

    Other areas that commonly arise in reviews that attract our attention include:

    • Consolidation – consolidation areas reviewed include the Allocable cost amount (ACA) process (we have seen some instances where the ACA has not been prepared at the time of the assurance review), asset recognition, valuation, reconsolidation events and MEC groups.
    • R&D expenditure – this area is a particular focus for us and a number of different taxpayer alerts have been issued about eligibility of R&D activities and expenditure respectively. We are commonly asking for more detailed working papers for R&D expense allocations and overheads. In some instances, we have also referred R&D matters to AusIndustry for a review of the eligibility of R&D activities, particularly in relation to software development and digital transformation activities.
    • Thin capitalisation – some of the issues we are seeing are asset revaluations and not including some arrangements as debt such as preference shares and notes.
    • Losses – we holistically focus on generation, carry forward, transfer and utilisation of any losses. Our reviews consider not only the technical tax analysis, but we also look to understand the origin of the losses and the commercial environment of the business at the time they were incurred. We also seek to understand when Top 100 taxpayers will utilise any carry forward losses and move into a tax payable position. This involves consideration of the same/similar business test and continuity of ownership tests.
    • Uniform capital allowances – this is usually a large area of assurance for capital intensive Top 100 taxpayers as they own a high percentage of fixed assets (property, plant and equipment). We recommend that taxpayers should undertake a ‘two way’ analysis looking both at capital items that could be expensed immediately, and immediately expensed items that might be more appropriately capitalised when preparing their capital allowance claims. We also have concerns with the use of automated software where the outcomes may not be compliant with the law, the incorrect use of project pools, and the incorrect treatment of balancing adjustments on disposals. We expect taxpayers relying on automated tools to be able to explain the ‘human intervention’ that confirmed revised claims satisfied the law. It is important that there are appropriate internal systems and good governance practices to record assets, and to calculate effective lives and depreciation. We will ask to see the tax fixed asset register and the working papers, and we will also verify original cost and adjustable values for high value assets.
    • Deductions – most of the general deductibility issues we are seeing relate to revenue or capital classification and the subsequent tax treatment of the expense. This includes capitalised labour, exploration expenses and repairs and maintenance.
    • Revenue – we are seeing that in some cases we need more evidence and/or analysis of sales revenue and other material revenue amounts to establish a reasonable basis to obtain a high level of assurance where we have been unable to reconcile revenue figures reported in the tax return with audited financial accounts.
    • Controlled foreign companies, related party derivatives and attribution of profits to permanent establishments – are areas that commonly arise in our justified trust reviews.
    • Hybrid mismatch – we have started to note circumstances where there is scope for the hybrid mismatch rules to apply, having regard to Law Companion Ruling LCR 2019/3 and accompanying Practical Compliance Guideline PCG 2019/6. Consistent with this guidance, we expect Top 100 taxpayers to engage with us if, having considered the risk of their arrangement taking into account our risk assessment framework, they conclude that there is a potential tax risk associated with the arrangement.
    • Diverted Profits Tax (DPT) – in the course of our assurance reviews, we may consider the application of the DPT concurrently with other provisions of the income tax law, including the transfer pricing rules in Division 815 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (ITAA 1997). We have considered, or are considering, the potential application of DPT in a small number of Top 100 cases.

    Ratings and engagement

    For some issues or transactions, we require more evidence and/or analysis to obtain high assurance. We are working with Top 100 taxpayers to articulate the areas that require further evidence or analysis. In some cases, medium assurance ratings on specific transactions may be satisfactory and, depending on the area and the significance of the transaction, it may still be possible to achieve high assurance overall.

    High quality information, relevant supporting documentation, and an open and transparent relationship with us are expected from taxpayers to be able to achieve high assurance.

    Alignment of tax and accounting outcomes

    We analyse the differences between the accounting and tax results. This includes understanding the effective tax rates and effective tax borne (ETB). We seek to understand and be able to explain any variances between tax and accounting outcomes. This provides an objective basis to obtain greater assurance.

    Ratings

    We apply a consistent rating system when reviewing and assessing the alignment of tax and accounting outcomes, which is outlined below.

    Green dot denotes high rating.

    High

    We understand and can explain the various streams of economic activity and why the accounting and income tax results vary.

    Yellow dot denotes medium rating.

    Medium

    Further analysis and explanation is required to understand the various streams of economic activity and/or why the accounting and tax results vary.

    Orange dot denotes low rating

    Low

    We identified concerns from our analysis of the various streams of economic activity and/or why accounting and tax results vary.

    Red dot denotes red flag.

    Red flag

    We do not understand and cannot explain the various streams of economic activity and/or why accounting and tax results vary.

    The reviews completed to the end of June 2020 resulted in the following ratings:

    Alignment of tax and accounting ratings for the last TAR issued as at July 2019

    Donut graph depicts the alignment of tax and accounting ratings as at July 2019. 27% of taxpayers attained high assurance, 9% attained medium-high assurance, 49% attained medium assurance, 3% attained low-medium assurance, and 12% attained low assurance.

    Alignment of tax and accounting ratings for the last TAR issued as at July 2020

    Donut graph depicts the alignment of tax and accounting ratings as at July 2020. 43% of taxpayers attained high assurance, 46% attained medium assurance and 11% attained low assurance.

    Observations

    Most (89%) of the Top 100 have obtained a medium to high assurance rating with respect to the alignment of tax and accounting outcomes, with the proportion at high assurance increasing from 27% at the end of June 2019 to 43% at the end of June 2020.

    We are generally able to obtain assurance over a significant proportion of reported income and expenses as most taxpayers have audited financial statements, supported by a book to book reconciliation between net profit or loss reported in the financial statements and the total profit or loss disclosed in the relevant tax return. This can be more challenging for taxpayers with Multiple Entry Consolidated (MEC) groups, foreign branches or stapled groups. However, in many cases we have now overcome these challenges through active collaboration with Top 100 taxpayers with these structures to deepen our understanding of these taxpayer’s various streams of economic activity and why the accounting and income tax results vary.

    We are also generally being provided with detailed book to tax reconciliations which allow us to obtain assurance over the key adjustments from the accounting results in order to calculate the taxable income (and tax payable) figures.

    The large number of medium ratings (46%) for this focus area demonstrates that further analysis is required, and underway, to understand the various streams of economic activity where the accounting and tax results vary for the Top 100 population. It is also reflective of the significance and complexity of the transactions that are still being reviewed and have not yet been rated as high assurance.

    Another element of this section is the ETB calculation, which we use to analyse the tax and economic performance of corporate groups. We consider that ETB is a part of good governance. Boards and tax representatives of corporate groups should understand their ETB calculation and discuss the results (including underlying proxies and assumptions) with us. We particularly encourage taxpayers to provide information around their global value chains and foreign taxes paid on Australian linked activity and continue to work with us to refine and enhance the ETB analysis.

    Tailored high assurance engagement

    Obtaining High Assurance

    In the Top 100 program, we apply a principled approach to reaching overall high assurance (justified trust). This is based on two elements:

    • a quantitative threshold of more than 90% tax assured and economic activity correctly reported, and
    • an objective assessment of seven qualifying factors.

    The seven qualifying factors are outlined below:

    Qualifying Factors:

    1. Governance

    Governance has been rated at least a stage 2 in the TAR.

    1. Tax risks flagged to market

    Any tax risks flagged to market (PCGs, tax alerts, public rulings, including those set out in the RTP Category C disclosures) have been rated at least a medium level of assurance in the TAR and are not identified as necessitating further action based on the information provided.

    1. International related party dealings and CFC’s

    International related party dealings, profit attribution to permanent establishments and CFCs have received at least a medium level of assurance in the TAR and are not identified as necessitating further action based on the information provided.

    1. Losses

    Losses, if applicable, have received at least a medium level of assurance in the TAR. This includes that the commerciality of tax losses has been verified and we understand when a taxpayer will utilise carried forward balances and move into a tax payable position.

    1. Effective Tax Borne (ETB)

    The ETB calculation in the TAR and any underlying assumptions or proxies have been verified with the taxpayer. The ETB calculation has not highlighted any new areas of concern for us, including, for example, holding overseas interests in jurisdictions where there is not a substantiated commercial purpose.

    1. Reportable tax position schedule

    There are no inconsistencies in RTP schedule disclosures which are identified between lodgment of the tax return and finalisation of the review.

    7. Cooperative and collaborative behaviour

    It has been a cooperative and collaborative process and working with a taxpayer we have not observed any non-cooperative behaviour.

    An overall provisional high assurance (justified trust) rating may still be possible in limited circumstances. Such circumstances may include where the taxpayer has provided an undertaking and is actively working on addressing a specific design gap in their tax governance framework or there is ongoing compliance activity. Where there is ongoing compliance activity, provided the quantitative threshold is met (inclusive of that unassured issue), the availability of a provisional rating will depend on the nature and stage of the compliance activity.

    High assurance approach

    Reaching high assurance under the justified trust approach will generate a tangible change in the client experience to recognise the trust we have that the right amount of Australian income tax is being paid.

    For Top 100 PCR taxpayers that obtain high assurance, we will continue to monitor their tax outcomes over the next two income tax years to assess whether there has been any change in the level of justified trust. We will continue to engage with taxpayers on a regular basis albeit on a less intensive level than through the justified trust review and will expect taxpayers to notify us of new transactions, significant business changes or changed tax positions as soon as they are known. We will also continue to use data from our own internal systems to monitor the taxpayer’s affairs, with a focus on any significant changes to the taxpayer’s business activities, dealings or reported tax outcomes since the income years that were reviewed. We will consider any new significant transactions or changes to the taxpayer’s business, as well as any new tax risks flagged to market. We note that we may need to review tax impacts in this period which are dependent on tax positions taken in a prior period and reviewed in an earlier assurance review, as well as verifying issued rulings. For example, the determination of the available fraction for deducting losses acquired as a result of a consolidation/MEC restructure in an earlier period which are not deducted until a subsequent period after the taxpayer has obtained high assurance.

    We will undertake a more comprehensive justified trust review to refresh our confidence in a taxpayers’ tax outcomes every third year. The refresh year will comprise a review of the four pillars of justified trust and, wherever possible, we will leverage from assurance previously obtained. The refresh year is likely to be an integrated review for both income tax and GST. In exceptional circumstances, we may undertake a refresh earlier than the third year if there has been a fundamental business change that affects the majority of the taxpayer’s business for example, a merger or we have reason to believe that our trust should no longer be maintained.

    For Top 100 ACA taxpayers who have obtained a high overall level of assurance we will continue to undertake an ACA review annually, including an ETB analysis in accordance with the ACA terms of arrangement. We will undertake a justified trust review as part of the ACA to refresh our confidence and maintain high assurance every third year.

    Top 100 GST assurance program

    In 2019 we expanded the Top 100 assurance program to include GST. The Top 100 GST assurance program seeks greater assurance that Top 100 taxpayers are reporting the right amount of goods and services tax (GST).

    Under the program, GST and income tax teams are working collaboratively to deliver justified trust assurance reviews and we continue to integrate our approaches to implement the justified trust work program from a whole-of-client and multiple tax perspective.

    During a Top 100 GST assurance review we apply our justified trust methodology. We review whether:

    • GST controls within a taxpayer’s tax control framework exist, are designed effectively and are working in practice. This includes the design of business systems to create, capture and report transactions correctly for GST purposes
    • GST risks we have flagged to the market are present
    • the GST outcomes of atypical, new or large transactions are appropriate
    • the various streams of economic activity and how they are treated for GST are understood and explainable which may include applying the GST analytical tool (GAT).

    We published the GST Governance, Data Testing and Transaction Testing Guide (the guide) in July 2020. The guide supports our GST assurance reviews for governance, data and transaction testing in the Top 100 and Top 1000 markets and will assist taxpayers to conduct a self-review of their tax control framework for GST purposes. It also explains how to undertake data and transaction testing to ensure that business systems are creating, capturing and correctly reporting GST.

    We encourage Top 100 taxpayers to review the guide in conjunction with a review of their GST systems and records before the Top 100 GST assurance review commences. Taxpayers are able to make a voluntary disclosure of any errors or mistakes to avoid penalties.

      Last modified: 02 Oct 2020QC 63848