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Edited version of private advice

Authorisation Number: 1051808298030

Date of advice: 24 February 2021

Ruling

Subject: Superannuation guarantee and ordinary time earnings

Question

Does a car allowance paid to an employee of an employer form part of ordinary time earnings (OTE) under subsection 6(1) of the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 (SGAA?)

Answer

No, please see 'Reasons for decision' below.

The arrangement commences on:

1 July 2019

Relevant facts and circumstances

•   A car allowance of $10,000 per year is paid to an employee as part of her employment contract with an employer.

•   The $10,000 has been predetermined by her contract for car expenses.

•   The employer is an NDIS provider that provides support services to 'participants'. The employee uses their private vehicle to travel to and between participants and can travel to and between up to 1 - 5 participants a day. The service the employee provides in their role can also require the employee to pay for parking.

•   The car allowance is paid to the employee with the expectation that the employee would be expending the whole amount of the money (or close to) in fuelling the vehicle, replacing one set of tyres, and to cover the cost of parking as required.

•   The amount of the car allowance has been calculated on the expected amount of travelling, the fuel consumption of the type of vehicle, and the cost of servicing and maintaining the vehicle (purchase of tyres). The business is relatively new so an estimate was used.

Relevant legislative provisions

Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 subsection6(1).

Reasons for decision

Summary

The vehicle allowance paid to the employee does not form part of OTE as defined under subsection 6(1) of the SGAA.

The employer is not required to pay superannuation guarantee (SG) on the vehicle allowance payment.

Detailed reasoning

The SGAA places a requirement on all employers to provide a minimum level of superannuation support for their eligible employees by the quarterly due date, or pay the superannuation guarantee charge. The minimum level of support is calculated by multiplying the charge percentage (currently 9.50%) by each employee's earnings base.

From 1 July 2008, an employer must use OTE as defined in subsection 6(1) of the SGAA as the earnings base to calculate the minimum superannuation contributions for their employees. This ensures that all employees are treated the same for superannuation purposes.

Definition of ordinary time earnings

Subsection 6(1) of the SGAA defines OTE in relation to an employee to mean:

(a) the total of:

(i) earnings in respect of ordinary hours of work other than earnings consisting of a lump sum payment of any of the following kinds made to the employee on the termination of his or her employment:

(A) a payment in lieu of unused sick leave;

(B) an unused annual leave payment, or unused long service leave payment, within the meaning of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997;

(C) (Repealed by No 15 of 2007)

(ii) earnings consisting of over-award payment, shift loading or commission;

(b) If the total ascertained in accordance with paragraph (a) would be greater than the maximum contribution base for the quarter - the maximum contribution base.

Superannuation Guarantee Ruling SGR 2009/2 Superannuation guarantee: meaning of the terms 'ordinary time earnings' and 'salary or wages' (SGR 2009/2)explains that an employee's 'ordinary hours of work' are the hours specified as ordinary hours of work under the relevant award or agreement that governs the employee's conditions of employment and highlights that any hours worked in excess of, or outside the span those specified ordinary hours of work are not part of the employee's 'ordinary hours of work'. In particular, the ruling states that:

25. All amounts of earnings in respect of employment are in respect of the employee's ordinary hours of work unless they are remuneration for working overtime hours, or are otherwise referable only to overtime or to other hours that are not ordinary hours of work. There is no such thing as earnings that are merely in respect employment and are not OTE because they are not in respect of any particular hours of work.

26. An award or agreement may itself have a definition of 'ordinary time earnings' that purports to apply for superannuation purposes. However, the central question posed by the definition of OTE in the SGAA is what amounts are 'earnings in respect of ordinary hours of work'. This could in some cases be a different amount from any purported amount of 'OTE' in the award or agreement. As mentioned in paragraph 13 of this Ruling, the Commissioner accepts that 'ordinary hours of work' are as determined by the relevant award or agreement, but that does not imply that OTE itself is necessarily as determined by the award or agreement.

Accordingly, in line with the above, all amounts of earnings in respect of employment should be considered to be in respect of the employee's ordinary hours of work unless these are remuneration for overtime or other hours that are not ordinary hours of work.

Allowances

An allowance is a payment of a definite predetermined amount to cover an estimated expense. Generally it is paid regardless of whether the employee incurs the expected expense and the employee has the discretion whether or not to expend the allowance.

Paragraph 27 of SGR 2009/2 relates to certain specific kinds of payments that are OTE. Paragraph 27 states:

Many employees receive various additional payments that are described as allowances that are paid to employees to recognise or compensate for certain conditions relating to their employment. Examples:

•   a 'site allowance' paid fortnightly at a flat rate in acknowledgement of the displacement an employee undergoes when a job requires him or her to work in a remote location;

•   a 'casual loading' of 20% of the basic ordinary time rate of pay paid to a casual worker in lieu of any fixed, regular minimum hours of work and of paid leave entitlements;

•   a 'dirt allowance' paid as a flat rate in acknowledgement of the conditions in which the work is undertaken; and

•   a 'freezer allowance' paid at the rate of an extra $2.50 per hour to employees, such as some supermarket employees, who perform most of their duties in cold storage facilities.

These kinds of payments are OTE except to the extent that they:

•   are not 'salary or wages', for example if they are payments of a predetermined amount to offset or reimburse particular expenses; or

•   relate solely to hours of work other than ordinary hours of work.

Paragraph 65 of SGR 2009/2 relates to certain payments that are 'salary or wages'. Paragraph 65 states:

For the purposes of the SGAA, all allowances, except expense allowances and allowances that are fringe benefits under the FBTAA, received by an employee, are included in 'salary or wages'

Paragraphs 72 of SGR 2009/2 relates to expense allowances and reimbursements and states:

Expense allowances, that is, those allowances paid to an employee with a reasonable expectation that the employee will fully expend the money in the course of providing services are not 'salary or wages'.

Paragraph 266 of SGR 2009/2 which is in the explanation states:

An expense allowance is an allowance which is paid with the reasonable expectation that the money will be fully expended by the employee in the course of providing their services. The expense allowance is not given for the services of the employee, but rather in recognition of the expenditure that the employee will incur in the course of providing their services. As this type of allowance does not fall within the ordinary meaning of 'salary or wages', it does not form part of 'salary or wages' for the purposes of section 11. It also does not form part of an employee's OTE.

Paragraphs 259 to 263 of SGR 2009/2 relate to allowances and reimbursements. These paragraphs state:

259. Section 11 does not expressly include in its definition of 'salary or wages' the term 'allowance'. The Commissioner however interprets the expression as used in the SGAA context as extending to the same kinds of allowances that have been regarded as salary or wages under definitions of 'salary or wages' that expressly include allowances.

260. In Mutual Acceptance, the High Court considered whether a fixed weekly payment to employees who used their own motor vehicles in the course of their duties was an 'allowance' and therefore 'wages' as defined the then Commonwealth Pay-Roll Tax Assessment Act 1941-42. The payment represented partial compensation for the motor vehicle expenses to be incurred by those employees.

261. In discussing what may be considered as the ordinary meaning of an 'allowance' Latham CJ in Mutual Acceptance stated that an allowance paid as compensation for unusual conditions of services:

... represents higher wages paid on account of special conditions, and may be fairly described as part of wages in the ordinary sense (emphasis added)

262. Mutual Acceptance was relied upon in Road & Traffic Authority of NSW v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation where the employees received fare allowances under the relevant award for travel to and from work. They were paid regardless of whether or not the employee incurred the expenditure. The question for decision was whether the allowances were expense payment benefits subject to fringe benefits tax or were within the definition of 'salary or wages' in former subsection 221A(1) of the ITAA 1936.

263. Hill J considered the allowance as additional compensation to the employees for their services. There was no need that the remuneration relate to specific services rendered, as long as the payments in question were given as remuneration for services generally. The fare allowances had no relationship to the actual cost of travel incurred by the employees. Accordingly, they were not reimbursements. The fare allowances were held to be 'salary or wages'.

Therefore, in order for car allowances to be deemed an expense allowance it is necessary to establish whether there is a reasonable expectation that the employee will fully expend the money in the course of providing services. If an allowance is paid unconditionally, that is regardless of whether the employee actually incurs the cost, it suggests that the allowance is not an expense allowance.

Application of the law to the facts

In this case, the employer has advised that the $10,000 annual car allowance was worked out on expected kilometres travelled and fuel usage on this travel, one set of new tyres as well as vehicle servicing, and parking fees.

The allowance is paid to compensate the employee for expenses associated with the use and maintenance of their own vehicle which is used in the course of their employment.

An expense allowance, as discussed in paragraph 266 of SGR 2009/2, is not considered to be earnings 'in respect of' the employees' ordinary hours of work, as it is not given for the services of the employee, but rather in recognition of the expenditure that the employee will incur in the course of providing their services. Therefore, it is not salary or wages and does not form part of the employees' OTE under subsection 6(1) of the SGAA.

Conclusion

To constitute OTE for SGAA purposes, a payment must be considered to be earnings in respect of, or in connection with an employee's ordinary hours of work.

On the basis of the information the employer provided, the employee is paid a $10,000 annual car allowance in recognition that this amount is to cover the estimated annual expense of the running and maintenance of the vehicle, and the employer therefore states it is paid with the reasonable expectation that it will be fully expended in deriving the assessable income of the business of the employer. Based on this information, the allowance will be considered as an expense allowance and is not included in the employee's OTE for the purposes of the SGAA