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$50m of JobKeeper payments due to honest errors, says ATO

The Tax Office says it wasn’t appropriate to seek over $50 million of overpaid JobKeeper stimulus because it determined that those payments were largely due to honest errors made by applicants in signing up to the scheme.

$50m of JobKeeper payments due to honest errors, says ATO
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  • Adrian Flores
  • February 15, 2021
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Speaking to the Senate committee on COVID-19, ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn revealed that it identified about 0.4 of a percentage point of overpayments, which was calculated to be around $340 million.

He said the ATO had already clawed back $135 million of those overpayments, with around another $150 million it is currently pursuing.

Mr Hirschhorn told the committee of concerns at the beginning of the JobKeeper program about honest mistakes where people applied but got the rules wrong.

“We said we were not going to pursue repayment if they had passed that on to the employees. That comes to about $50 million of the $340 million where we’ve determined somebody made an honest mistake and it was not appropriate to claw back the JobKeeper,” Mr Hirschhorn said.

He said there are two entities where there is an active court case in relation to false or misleading statements, with another 16 under consideration, and 43 cases where we have levied penalties between 25 and 75 per cent, with 14 under consideration.

“To give a bit of context on that, what this proves is that the design features and how we designed it around the existing systems, in conjunction with our Treasury colleagues, have really held up very well,” Mr Hirschhorn said.

“In the context of an $80 billion scheme, this is very positive. I will put the flip side: the level of compliance has been extraordinarily high.

“As for the level of non-compliance, obviously we keep an eye out for it — we are the Tax Office — but it is a very encouraging result.”

Mr Hirschhorn also reiterated the ATO’s denial of any JobKeeper payments being handed to fictitious employees, prisoners or dead people.

He pointed to an ABC article that first made the allegations and chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“I think, unfortunately, the journalist misunderstood the document and confused the fact that we had risk controls around high-risk categories of employee, like dead people, with the fact that we actually had a problem around fictitious employees,” Mr Hirschhorn said.

“I can confirm to the committee that our systems are very — because, again, this whole scheme is based around tax file numbers of individuals — the Tax Office is very good at tracking who has died.

“There are no fictitious employees, so people making up people, or somehow harvesting dead people and claiming JobKeeper. There are none of those in the scheme.”

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