There are four main types of business structures for conducting business in Australia, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. A person can carry on business as a sole trader, partnership, trust or company.
The choice of business structure is an important decision to make at the start of a business venture, as the structure can have an impact on tax implications and reporting requirements during the lifetime of the business. When setting up a business structure, consideration should be given to factors such as how many people will be involved in the business, what the business will do, potential risk or personal liability, how much income is likely to be earned from the business and the intended growth of the business.
A person can carry on business on their own behalf as a sole trader. A sole trader can trade under their own name or a registered business name. The business income earned as a sole trader is taxed at the same rate as individual taxpayers.
This is the simplest form of business structure, with low establishment costs and with minimal legal and compliance requirements.
The disadvantages of this type of business structure include being personally liable for all obligations incurred in the course of the business, individual taxation costs, and an inability to split profits.
Two or more individuals can carry on business in partnership, where the income from the business is received jointly. Partnerships are relatively inexpensive to form and operate. Most partnerships are established by a partnership agreement which sets out the rights and obligations of the partners. A partnership itself is not taxable, rather each partner pays tax on their share of the net income of the partnership.
The downside to this type of business structure is that partners are severally and jointly liable for the obligations of the partnership. There is also potential for dispute and loss of trust between the partners, which may impact the functioning of the business.
Under a trust, a trustee owns the property or assets of the trust and carries on business on behalf of the beneficiaries of the trust. A trustee can be an individual or a company. A formal deed is required to set up a trust and there are annual tasks for a trustee to undertake.
Some advantages of a trust are that there is flexibility in income distribution and income can be streamed to low income tax beneficiaries to take advantage of their lower marginal tax rate. Furthermore, assets can be protected through a properly drafted deed.
However, trusts can be costly to set up and there are more compliance and legal requirements.
A company is a separate legal entity capable of holding assets in its own name. The words “Pty Ltd” after a business name show that the business is a registered legal entity trading in its own right. A company is owned by shareholders and directors manage the company’s day to day business and affairs. The shareholders of a company receive any company profits in the form of dividends. Shareholders can limit their personal liability and are not generally liable for the company debts. Instead, the financial liability of the company is limited to the assets owned by the company.
Companies are governed by corporations law and there are a number of duties and obligations for company directors. Primarily, directors have an obligation to act in the best interests of the company.
The establishment of a company and ongoing administrative and compliance costs can be high. There is also a requirement to publicly disclose key information.
Each business will vary and no business owner’s circumstances will be the same. It is advisable to talk to an accountant or solicitor about the costs and risks of each business structure to make sure that the business structure used is the right one for the business and its needs.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (02) 9963 9800 or via our contact form.
Covid-19 continues to disrupt business operations, creating an uncertain environment for business owners to trade within. In response to the drastic impact of Covid-19 on the Australian economy, the Federal Government introduced the JobKeeper scheme to support small businesses and combat unemployment. Whilst many businesses have benefited greatly from the scheme, some were excluded from Commonwealth support as they failed to meet the eligibility criteria. The recent case of Apted v Commissioner of Taxation considered the requirement for businesses to have an active Australian Business Number (ABN) when applying for the JobKeeper package; the Tribunal finding that the purpose of the scheme was to support businesses and arbitrary eligibility requirements were contrary to this objective.
Mr Adept was the sole trader of a small business where he worked as an expert valuer in rental disputes up until July 2018 at which point he retired. As such, he cancelled his GST and ABN registration effective June 2018. However, after he decided retirement wasn’t for him, in September of 2019 Mr Apted was engaged to provide services for the odd client. He mistakenly assumed that he was not required to reactivate his ABN as he did not anticipate to make more than $75 000 per year and did not think he needed to be registered for GST or an ABN.
At the end of March 2020, Mr Apted applied to have his ABN reactivated, which was reinstated by the Registrar with a date of effect of 31 March 2020. He then subsequently applied for a JobKeeper payment in April 2020, but his application was rejected as he was deemed ineligible due to his inactive ABN at the 12 March 2020 cut-off date. Mr Apted then contacted the Registry and had his ABN retrospectively backdated to be effective from July 2019 after which he appealed the decision with the Commissioner. His claim again failed on the basis of ineligibility and Mr Apted subsequently escalated the decision of the Commissioner to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia.
Eligibility Requirements for JobKeeper
There are several requirements set out in the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Rules 2020 (Cth) that must be met in order for a business to qualify for JobKeeper payments. These include:
- At 1 March 2020, the entity was an active business; not for profit operating primarily in Australia; or a deductible gift recipient.
- The entity employed at least one eligible employee during the JobKeeper fortnight being applied for.
- The entity satisfies the original decline in turnover test: which is generally satisfied when an entity’s projected GST turnover for the test period falls short of current GST turnover for the relevant comparison period by the specified percentage (normally 30%). There are alternative tests for businesses started in 2020 before March 1.
- The entity satisfies the actual decline in turnover test: which is generally satisfied when an entity’s actual GST turnover for the test period falls short of the relevant comparison period, by specified short fall percentage (normally 30%).
- The entity satisfies the integrity rules: have an ABN that was active on 12 March 2020; and an amount was included in the entity’s assessable income for 2018-19 income in relation to the business or the entity made a taxable supply in a tax period between July 2018-12 March 2020.
Decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia
In its decision, the Tribunal considered the purpose of the JopKeeper scheme as a mechanism for providing necessary and accessible support to small business owners. The Tribunal found that the Integrity Rule containing the requirement for an active ABN at 12 March 2020 was contemplated by the government as putting trust in the Registrar and the ABN process, rather than a fixed deadline. As a result, where the Registrar decides to use its discretion to retrospectively date an ABN, this does not vitiate the integrity of the ABN for the purposes of JobKeeper eligibility. The Tribunal found in favour of Mr Apted, and reiterated the need for JobKeeper to remain a streamlined and attainable scheme for Australian businesses.
It is worth noting that that the ATO has confirmed that they have lodged an appeal against the decision in the Federal Court of Australia and the possible future implications of this decision remain unclear. However, the ATO maintains the AAT’s decision has not changed the need to satisfy all of the other eligibility conditions.
Other Recent JobKeeper Updates
From the 28th of September 2020, businesses and non-for-profits seeking to claim JobKeeper payments to March 2021 must reassess their eligibility with reference to their actual turnover in the December quarter and demonstrate the required decline turnover test has been met. Further, from January 4th the payment amount has decreased to $1,000 per fortnight for eligible employees and business participants working for 20 hours or more a week on, and $650 per fortnight for employees and business participants who were working for less than 20 hours a week.
How do I check the status of my ABN?
An Australian Business Number is a unique identifier that enables your business to identify itself, avoid PAYG tax, and claim GST credits. It is important as the owner of a small business that you are able to check the status of your ABN and reactivate it before expiry. You can apply or reapply online for an ABN through the Australian Business Register website, and once your application is successful your details will be added to the Australian Business Register. The Register contains the status of all ABN’s including their expiration date. Once you have obtained an ABN it is important you keep your details up to date in the Register, as this is how you will be contacted when your ABN is due for renewal. If you do not receive a notice of renewal, or unsure about the status of your ABN you may need to seek out further assistance.
Matters such as these highlight the importance of seeking expert legal and taxation advice when conducting a small business. Mr Adept himself acknowledged his misunderstanding of ABN requirements was because he failed to obtain proper advice. If you are the owner of a small business, and want to understand more about your eligibility for JobKeeper payments or about the implications of an ABN for your business, do not hesitate to contact us on 9963 9800 or via our contact form.