In response to submissions from Pitcher Partners and other advisers, as well as Victoria-based associations, the Federal Government has signalled “tweaks” to JobKeeper payments beyond September to deal with Victoria’s Stage 4 restrictions. Pitcher Partners will continue to advocate for changes to these rules to ensure government support caters to the evolving needs of businesses during these uncertain times.
What are the changes?
Updates to the Treasury Fact Sheet released this morning indicate there will be changes affecting the way businesses determine their eligibility to participate beyond 27 September 2020 and in identifying eligible employees.
How is the decline in turnover to be tested?
To be eligible for the first JobKeeper payment extension period (being 28 September 2020 to 3 January 2021), businesses and not-for-profits must demonstrate that their actual GST turnover has fallen in the September quarter 2020, relative to a comparable period (generally the corresponding quarter in 2019). Under the original announcement, the test required decline in actual turnover in both the June and September quarters 2020, relative to the comparable periods in 2019.
Similarly, to be eligible for the second JobKeeper payment extension period (being 4 January 2021 to 28 March 2021), businesses and not-for-profits must demonstrate that their actual GST turnover has fallen in the December quarter 2020, relative to a comparable period (generally the corresponding quarter in 2019). Again, under the original announcement, the test required decline in actual turnover in each of the June, September and December quarters 2020, relative to the comparable periods in 2019.
We raised the issue with the cumulative tests in our bulletin released on 22 July 2020 (learn more here). The proposed changes outlined above go a long way in addressing the issue.
Which individuals will qualify?
Under the original announcement, eligibility remained restricted to individuals employed as at 1 March 2020. From 3 August 2020, individuals employed on a permanent or long-term casual basis as at 1 July 2020 will also be eligible to participate. For this purpose, a long-term casual employee will be one employed on a regular and systematic basis for at least 12 months prior to 1 July 2020.
There are currently four JobKeeper fortnights remaining in the existing scheme, meaning employers could be eligible for reimbursement of up to $6,000 for each of the individuals that meet this new test. Clearly, additional time will be required to allow employers to satisfy eligibility conditions (including time to make the minimum $1,500 for each fortnight), particularly as it is still uncertain when the law will be amended to give effect to the announcements.
The period for testing the JobKeeper payment rate for both employees and business participants under the extension will be the four-week period before 1 March 2020 or 1 July 2020, as appropriate.
What hasn’t changed?
Overall, the framework of the original JobKeeper scheme appears to remain the same, with the introduction of a tiered payment (to $1,200 for the first period and $1,000 for the second period) based on the average hours worked in the relevant period. However, as a consequence of the new employment date of 1 July 2020, the relevant period will now be either the hours worked in the four-week period prior to 1 March 2020 or 1 July 2020 (whichever is greater). Further details regarding these tests are outlined in our earlier bulletin.
Are the proposed changes enough?
The announced changes to the eligibility criteria for JobKeeper 2.0 are a welcome relief to many businesses that would have otherwise fallen short of the strict conditions (i.e. due to a small pickup in trading during June 2020). However, Pitcher Partners believes that improvements are still needed to ensure the scheme does not inadvertently exclude those businesses that still require support. Pitcher Partners will continue to advocate for changes to address these types of issues that may arise.
While many businesses in Victoria were forced to close their doors from 6 August 2020 under Stage 4 lockdowns, their trading during the month of July 2020 may mean they fail to satisfy the requisite decline during the September quarter 2020 (July, August and September). Rather than testing the September quarter, we believe that it would be more appropriate to test the prior three months continuously. Therefore, the relevant business may be able to qualify during the October period (instead of having to wait until January 2021).
What are the next steps?
It is critical for businesses to consider their position and how the rules apply to them. The turnover of a business over the next three months is absolutely critical to obtaining JobKeeper payments from 28 September 2020. Businesses should properly scrutinise their current monthly declarations to ensure that these are accurate (with the first month of July 2020 being lodged now with the ATO). Please contact a Pitcher Partners representative to review your situation and determine what action is required.