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ATO, Fair Work to visit or 'surprise audit' hundreds of businesses

Brisbane's West End, where inspectors from Fair Work will be visiting today. (Source: Getty)
Brisbane's West End, where inspectors from Fair Work will be visiting today. (Source: Getty)

Hundreds of Australian businesses will receive visits from the tax man and workplace watchdog today and over the next few weeks.

Their visits will be aimed at cracking down on businesses evading tax obligations as well as checking up to see whether employers are following workplace laws.

Who is the ATO targeting?

Between late July and early August, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is visiting nearly 500 businesses in Australia, and they’re looking for tax dodgers.

“Businesses who deliberately do the wrong thing – for example, pay cash in hand, or fail to lodge income tax returns or business activity statements – get an unfair advantage and make it harder for businesses who are doing the right thing,” said ATO assistant commissioner Peter Holt.

On the ATO’s radar are businesses based around NSW’s Port Macquarie and Wauchope areas that are from the building and construction industry, as well as cafes, restaurants, and personal care businesses.

Holt revealed that several businesses in this region were not registered for GST or pay-as-you-go withholding, which was a red flag for the black economy.

Another red flag was the high volume of businesses that had overdue tax returns. The ATO wants to “talk to business owners” and “help them get things right if they need a helping hand,” Holt said.

“We may discuss record keeping and payment facilities, outstanding lodgments, tax debts, and managing employee entitlements, such as superannuation.”

To explain the purpose of the visits and what to expect, the ATO is holding an information session at Rydges Port Macquarie (1 Hay Street) on Monday 29 July from 5pm to 6pm.

There will also be an introductory session on Single Touch Payroll on the same night between 6:15pm and 7:45pm.

These visits shouldn’t catch visits off-guard, however: an ATO spokesperson told Yahoo Finance that officers would notify businesses prior to visiting through phone, an SMS, email, or letter.

ATO officers will also have identification with them, so look out for a hard plastic card with the coat of arms, the officer’s name, their photograph, an expiry date, and an Australian Government watermark on the card.

Inspectors from Fair Work will be “surprise auditing” businesses

Today (Thursday 25 July), 50 Australian businesses will get a “surprise audit” from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Tens of bars, restaurants and cafes in Brisbane’s West End food district will be receiving unexpected visits to find out whether they’re complying with workplace laws.

“Our inspectors are on the ground speaking with employees and employers to check if staff are receiving correct wages, pay slips and that businesses are keeping accurate employment records,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker.

Fair Work said it had received more than 100 anonymous reports and requests for help from some West End employees that suggest some eateries are breaking workplace laws and aren’t paying staff minimum hourly rates of pay, or their lawful entitlements such as overtime, weekend penalty rates, or special allowances.

“If eateries in the West End are breaking the law, we will help to recover the wages and entitlements owed to staff,” said Parker.

She warned that, if necessary, enforcement action – including court action – would be considered.

“We urge employers to check they are paying staff correctly before we come knocking,” Parker said.

The volume of reports represents a third of all reports in the area, which is “disproportionately high” given that the percentage of employees working in the food service industry is only 12.3 per cent, according to a Fair Work statement, making Brisbane’s West End the third-most complained about area in the country.

Underpayment was the most common complaint, with many of the anonymous complaints made by young workers or visa holders.

Employees and employers can contact the Fair Work Infoline at 13 13 94. Make an anonymous report to the Fair Work Ombudsman through their website.

Note: A previous version of this article suggested that businesses visited by the ATO would be unannounced. This has now been amended to reflect that the ATO will be notifying businesses beforehand.

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