The Australian Tax Office has stopped more than 55,000 initial JobKeeper applications and delayed a further $1 billion in payments as hundreds of thousands of Australians attempt to access the coronavirus payments.
ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan told the Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 that the JobKeeper system was designed to prioritise ease of access, while also aiming to exclude Australians looking to defraud the system.
“From our preliminary analysis across each of the measures I can confirm that the vast majority of Australians have done the right thing and only claimed the amounts they were entitled to,” Jordan said.
“That said, JobKeeper, early release of super, and cash flow boost – which hasn’t had as much publicity as it probably should – are all completely new schemes, and we always expected some people might make honest mistakes, despite trying their best, as well as, people dishonestly trying to rip off the system.”
He said the ATO’s compliance system takes that into account and hopes to ensure people making mistakes “get the push they need”, while punishing deliberate wrong-doing.
“For JobKeeper, as a result of ongoing compliance checks, to date we have stopped more than 55,000 applications at the very first stage, because they did not meet the eligibility criteria,” he said.
Additionally, the ATO has delayed $1 billion in payments to more than 75,000 applicants in order to run further checks.
“Following these checks, some payments would have been stopped.”
Criminal charges incoming for JobKeeper rorts
Jordan added that the ATO’s pre-payment and assurance reviews have also resulted in another 48,000 compliance checks, where it has asked for more information from businesses.
And while most cases have been honest mistakes, Jordan said the ATO won’t hesitate to bring down the “full force of the law” for those looking to defraud the JobKeeper system.
“These behaviours include claiming for individuals who are not employees, manipulation of turnover, and false claims where there is no business activity at all. Here, we work closely with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and other agencies in the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce.”
As it stands, there are 11 cases the AFP’s Serious Financial Crime Taskforce is looking at, and another 50 cases referred for potential ATO-led criminal investigations.
“That being said, there are some investigations already on the public record, and while I can’t comment in too much detail, I can confirm that there are people facing criminal charges as a result of our joint investigations,” he said.
“Australians rightly expect that stimulus payments will go to only those who are eligible to receive it. They are also right to expect that there will be serious consequences for those that seek to undermine the system.”