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Small business responsible for lion’s share of unpaid taxes

The ATO’s latest tax data has revealed that small businesses once again account for the lion’s share of unpaid taxes.

Small business responsible for lion’s share of unpaid taxes
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • October 21, 2020
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The small business income tax gap — the difference between what was owed and what was actually paid — stood at some $11.1 billion in 2017-18, while the total amount of lost tax slipping through the ATO’s hands exceeded $31 billion, latest data from the Tax Office has shown.

Around 7 per cent of personal and income tax went unpaid in 2017–18, racking up a total loss of $31.2 billion.

The data has revealed that some $423 billion in tax has been paid voluntarily in 2017–18, with the small-business space contributing $85 billion or 88 per cent of taxes expected of them. 

However the tax gap in the small-business space stands at 11.5 per cent, hovering above that in the medium-business space where the percentage of unpaid taxes hangs around 6 per cent. 

By contrast, large corporations had an estimated tax gap of 4 per cent in the same year.

In order to find out more about the small business tax gap, the ATO carried out a small-business enquiry program and observed that while most of the taxpayers were found to have reported correctly or to have genuinely attempted to do so, where incorrect reporting was identified the most common issues were:

  • undeclared income
  • business owners failing to account for private use of business assets or funds
  • inadequate record-keeping systems or business owners not keeping the required records

The findings, based on the outcome of 2,098 reviews and audits, observed a range of behaviours relating to adjustments, including misunderstanding or misapplication of tax law; carelessness; poor record keeping; business owners appearing to deliberately avoid paying the right tax; and black economy behaviour.

The ATO further disclosed that the tax effect of the shadow economy for small business in 2017–18 could be worth up to $6.7 billion, with the majority of this activity or $5.2 billion associated with deliberate underreporting of business income and overclaiming of business deductions.

Where the funds are withheld

A breakdown of the ATO’s figures revealed that it missed out on $8.3 billion in tax revenue from individuals, not including Australia’s high-net-worth individuals, who posted a tax payment gap of $808 million.

Taking a closer look at the net tax gap estimates for income-based tax revealed the following figures:

  • Income tax for individuals – 5.6 per cent or $8.33 billion
  • Income tax for large corporations – 3.7 per cent or $2.03 billion
  • Small super funds – 2.5 per cent or $41 million
  • Large super funds – 1.2 per cent or $149 million
  • Medium business – 6.2 per cent or 860 million
  • Small business – 11.5 per cent or $11.08 billion
  • Petroleum resources rent tax – 1.7 per cent or $21 million

PAYG withholding by employers yielded a tax gap of 1.8 per cent or $3.48 billion. In other words, the ATO estimates that around 98 per cent of the total theoretical PAYG withholding tax payable was paid in 2017–18.

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