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  • Protecting honest business

    We know most business owners are honest and that running a business can be difficult.

    Unfortunately, there are businesses that operate in the cash and hidden economy, gaining an unfair advantage over those who declare their income and do the right thing. We aim to protect honest business from this unfair competition.

    We work closely with industry associations, tax practitioners and businesses to understand any issues they may have. We use up-to-date third-party data and sophisticated risk-analysis to identify who may not be doing the right thing or may need a bit more help.

    We have found that the community has less tolerance for unfair practices than it once did. If you see something, let us know so we can follow it up.

    Find out about:

    See also:

    Visiting business

    We are currently visiting businesses in the following areas:

    • Melbourne (VIC)
    • North-West Adelaide (SA)

    Over the past year, we have visited businesses in the areas of:

    • Cabramatta (NSW)
    • Werribee (VIC)
    • Sunnybank (QLD)
    • Liverpool (NSW)
    • Glen Waverley (VIC)
    • Glenelg (SA)
    • Batemans Bay (NSW)
    • Mandurah (WA)
    • Toowoomba (QLD)
    • Chatswood (NSW)

    We will focus on businesses that:

    • operate and advertise as 'cash only' or mainly deal in cash
    • our data matching suggests they don’t take electronic payments
    • are part of an industry where cash payments are common
    • indicate unrealistic income relative to the assets and lifestyle of the business and its owner
    • fail to register for GST or lodge activity statements or tax returns
    • under-report transactions and income according to third-party data
    • fail to meet super or employer obligations
    • operate outside the normal small business benchmarks for their industry
    • are reported to us by the community for potential tax evasion – the number of reports we receive shows us that the community is less tolerant of unfair practices in these industries.

    See also:

    Verify or report an ATO impersonation scam

    If you are concerned about the authenticity of someone visiting your premises claiming to be from the ATO, phone 1800 008 540 to confirm ATO activity in your area.

    Why we are visiting 'cash-only' businesses

    We are visiting businesses across Australia as part of our ongoing focus on the cash and hidden economy. In particular, we are focusing on businesses advertising 'cash-only' or dealing mainly in cash.

    We will work with business and industry associations along with local authorities like chambers of commerce and councils.

    We will be talking to them about:

    • why we are focusing on cash
    • the benefits of electronic payment and record keeping facilities
    • community expectations of paying by card
    • our tools and demonstrating how to use them, including online lodgment
    • making sure they're registered correctly
    • ensuring all businesses pay the correct amount of tax and super by declaring all their income and knowing what expenses they can claim
    • lodging their tax returns and activity statements
    • meeting their obligations if they are struggling, taking into account specific circumstances, and helping them get back on track
    • any other help they may need.

    If we see a business deliberately doing the wrong thing, we have an obligation to do something about it. This could result in an audit or even prosecution.

    No matter what kind of business you have, if you're doing the right thing, you don’t need to be concerned.

    Why we are writing to businesses

    Businesses that our data matching shows don't take electronic payments will be receiving an email or letter highlighting the benefits of investing in an electronic payment facility.

    There are many inexpensive electronic payment options available that are easy to set up including EFTPOS, smartphone and tablet card processing.

    Some of the benefits include:

    • consumers are going cashless and expect to have a choice
    • fewer mistakes – so less contact from us
    • quicker reconciling at the end of the day – less time in queue at the bank
    • less chance of being presented counterfeit notes
    • reduces the risk of theft or break-ins.

    If you have made a mistake

    If you realise you've made a mistake, or left something out, it's better to come to us first. Reduced penalties may be applied, for example if you:

    • haven't told us about income you have earned, including cash payments
    • claimed deductions you weren't entitled to
    • made any other statement to us that was false or misleading.

    See also:

    Report a concern

    If you have information about someone you think may be deliberately evading tax, you can report it to us confidentially.

    Try to provide as much detail as you can so we are able to fully assess the information.

    Report a concern

    Findings from visits

    During our visits around the country we found businesses that:

    • don’t have business bank accounts – it’s important to separate business and personal income
    • don’t record all sales or keep proper books
      • keeping good records lets you know how your business is really doing
      • businesses with electronic payment and accounting systems told us it saves them time because the basics are done for them
    • had friends, family and other employees working ‘off the books’
    • most were happy to see us and take advantage of getting one-on-one advice.

    Expect to hear from us

    Businesses that cause us concern can expect us to follow up, initially by a letter that could include recommending they:

    • lodge a voluntary disclosure because we consider them to be at risk of not reporting all their income and they may be subject to an audit
    • invest in an electronic payment and record keeping system to reduce the risk of mistakes and meet consumer preference
    • attend ATO record keeping information sessions that are available around the country and can be booked online at Small business workshopsExternal Link
    • know their tax obligations if they have employees, such as pay as you go withholding and superannuation.

    See also:

    Results from past visits

    Hair and beauty industry

    Our recent activities have resulted in:

    • an increase of around 4% in timely lodgment of activity statements compared to the 2015 financial year
    • an increase in GST registrations being corrected
    • more timely payments of income tax and activity statement liabilities
    • a reduction in outstanding payment obligations
    • business owners being supported and educated to make informed decisions about their tax obligations.

    Here are some examples of how we have dealt with businesses that have not met their obligations.

    Example: Business owner's lifestyle didn't match their reported income

    A nail salon business with a number of outlets was selected when data matching indicated anomalies. Our initial investigation confirmed that the owner kept incomplete records and declared income that didn’t support their lifestyle and assets.

    We uncovered more than $2 million of undeclared income.

    After imposing penalties for reckless behaviour of over $241,000, the total amount of GST, income tax and penalties payable by the owner was more than $728,000.

    End of example


    Example: Poor record keeping leads to penalties

    Acting on concerns from a member of the public, we investigated a hairdresser and found that the business owner couldn’t account for all of their expenses.

    The owner told us they didn’t know how to keep good records and had never sought advice about how to do this from a tax professional.

    GST and penalties on over-claimed expenses payable by the owner were over $50,000.

    End of example

    Restaurant, cafe, takeaway and catering industry

    Our recent activities have resulted in:

    • an increase of over 6% in timely lodgment of activity statements compared to the 2015 financial year
    • corrections to GST registrations
    • an increase in timely payments of income tax and activity statement liabilities
    • business owners being supported and educated to make informed decisions about their tax obligations.

    Here are some examples of how we have dealt with businesses that have not met their obligations.

    Example: Undeclared income and inflated expenses

    When visiting one business, our staff noticed the Australian business number (ABN) quoted on cash register sales receipts varied. When we asked about this, the owner made voluntary disclosures about over-claimed expenses.

    During the audit, we also found further unreported income and more over-claimed expenses. This led to adjustments of more than $1.1 million. Penalties imposed on the tax shortfall were reduced by just over $12,000 because of the disclosures.

    GST, income tax and penalties payable exceeded $211,000.

    End of example


    Example: Tracking cash payments

    During one of our visits to a restaurant, it was apparent the owner needed to improve their record keeping practices as cash was kept in a cardboard shoe box.

    Our profiling work showed five merchant IDs, which the taxpayer told us belonged to five different restaurants operating under this entity. All had the same poor record keeping processes.

    Our analysis identified several bank accounts, and third party information identified deposits in excess of $300,000 for 2014 and 2015. We identified $1.3 million of understated income for 2014 and $1.5 million for 2015. We calculated cash not deposited by developing a ‘cash deposit timeline’ for each restaurant.

    It turned out that no cash had been reported to us, and only EFTPOS income had been included in tax returns and activity statements.

    End of example

    Building and construction industry

    Our recent activities have resulted in:

    • an increase of around 5% in timely lodgment of activity statements compared to the 2015 financial year
    • over 760 businesses in the building and construction industry have been shown our range of online tools and services since July 2016.

    Here are some examples of how we have dealt with businesses that have not met their obligations.

    Example: Failing to lodge and not reporting cash income

    A licensed carpenter failed to lodge tax returns for a number of years. We demanded lodgment and when the tax returns were lodged, it was clear that income from cash jobs weren't included.

    We conducted an audit for the 2006 to 2013 financial years and found that the taxpayer had over-claimed input tax credits in addition to not declaring cash income. Their record keeping was very poor and they couldn't explain how some materials and vehicles were funded.

    The audit resulted in the taxpayer owing additional tax and penalties of over $190,000.

    End of example


    Example: Failing to report cash income

    We identified a company in the building and construction industry that hadn't reported over $970,000 in cash sales over a two-year period. The omitted income had been transferred into nine personal bank accounts as employee payments, including the company director. The nine employees also didn't report this income in their personal income tax returns.

    This resulted in over $90,000 GST payable by the company with failure to withhold penalties of over $200,000 on the wages provided to its employees.

    The total shortfall of income tax payable by the individuals was $277,000 with penalties of over $175,000.

    End of example
      Last modified: 30 Apr 2018QC 35984