Guidance on how to deal with instant asset write-off uncertainty — at last

As most small businesses know, the previous government introduced a number of small business tax relief measures as part of its Mineral Resources Rent Tax (MRRT, or mining tax) legislation. These included:

  • the ability to instantly write off asset purchases up to $6,500 in value (up from the existing $1,000 relief)
  • instant write-off of the first $5,000 spent on a motor vehicle plus 15% of the rest of the purchase price
  • ability for small companies that incur tax losses to carry those losses back against profits of a previous year, with a resulting refund of tax paid in that previous year.

As part of the repeal of the mining tax, the current government proposed to also abolish these measures, with effect from January 1, 2014. However the mining tax repeal has not passed the Senate, which means that these measures have been in limbo — meaning that small businesses have also been left in limbo as far a knowing what to do about them from a practical tax treatment point of view. Currently these concessions are in the law, but should the Senate pass the legislation after July 1, they would retrospectively disappear, effective from January 1.

The continuing uncertainty for small businesses has not been helpful, and while the Federal Budget would have been an ideal opportunity to provide clarity, no such guidance was forthcoming.

The government’s failure to address these concerns for small businesses has led to the Tax Office having to step up to the plate and, sure enough, in the week after the Budget it provided guidance on how businesses should deal with these measures pending either the passing of the mining tax repeal law or a revision of the proposals.

The Tax Office advises that should the mining tax (and so the concessions) be repealed, taxpayers will have to amend any tax returns already lodged that have claimed the higher rate of instant asset write off, accelerated vehicle depreciation and loss carry-backs, but – crucially – has advised that businesses that have made such claims based on existing law will not have imposed on them tax shortfall penalties or shortfall interest upon amendment.

This means that small businesses which have bought qualifying assets or will make a tax loss in the current year can now take advantage of the existing measures confident that the worst that can happen is they will have to recalculate their tax based on the new law but that they won’t be hit with interest and penalties.

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