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The ATO is auditing members who accessed early withdrawals. Here’s what that means

August 14th, 2020

Australians abusing the early super access scheme could face severe penalties as the tax office tests a new audit process to identify rorters.

Speaking before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said the tax office had assigned 130 staff to a ‘pilot’ audit of the early super access scheme.

The ATO will only audit a few hundred members to begin with, but if it finds a high proportion accessed the scheme without meeting the criteria, it could launch a much larger program.

And members caught abusing the system could face fines of up to $12,600 every time they accessed their super inappropriately, or be forced to pay income tax on the money they withdrew. 

“There are a range of consequences, but … we moderate those consequences depending on the deliberateness of the action,” Mr Hirschhorn said.

Where we think somebody has made an honest mistake as to their eligibility, and particularly where they voluntarily disclose that to us, we are unlikely to impose significant consequences.”

What the audits mean

By August 2, cash-strapped Australians had withdrawn $30.3 billion from their superannuation accounts, according to APRA. 

Members withdrew an average of $7695 when accessing the scheme for the first time (three million applications) and $8511 when accessing it for the second time (1.1 million applications).

This money is tax-free, so long as the applicant was genuinely eligible for the program and met one of the following criteria:

  • was unemployed
  • was eligible to receive JobSeeker, Youth Allowance for job seekers, parenting payment, Special Benefits, or Farm Household Allowance
  • was made redundant, had their hours reduced by 20 per cent or more, or suffered a reduction in turnover of at least 20 per cent (sole traders) on or after January 1, 2020.

Anyone who met one of the above criteria has no need to worry about an audit. They face no penalties and the money they withdrew from superannuation will remain tax free.

But what happens if someone’s circumstances changed, making them ineligible after they had already accessed the cash?

Chartered Accountants ANZ superannuation lead Tony Negline said members who fall into this category have nothing to worry about, either.

You made a declaration to the tax office when you said yes I qualify, [and] you can only make a declaration with what you knew at the time,” he said.

If the information you provided was correct at the time you applied to receive the money, then there’s no need to feel anxious.

“It’s like saying you didn’t take an umbrella to work today because the Bureau of Meteorology said it wouldn’t rain until tonight, but the rain came early and you got wet,” Mr Negline said.

“You were only operating with the information you had at hand.”

Continue reading about the ATO auditing members who have accessed their super early.

First published on www.thenewdaily.com.au and republished with permission from The New Daily. For the full article visit The New Daily website.